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The World Again, a Step to the Left

Chapter Text

Text says, 'Chapter 1'

John was running.

John was running.

He was exhausted, going on his third day without sleep, but how was one supposed to sleep when there were bombs and snipers and a big neon target on one's back?

He was exhausted; between work and Sherlock's cases he'd been going nonstop for three days, but it wasn't like he could let a murderer go free because he needed to nap, could he?

Who could have realised that the discovery of a small mirror inset into a ceramic frame would cause this kind of chaos? No one knew why Moriarty had become obsessed with it, but he had, and was making their lives miserable.

He should have realised by now that when Sherlock got his teeth into something, nothing got in its way. But knowing something, and being used to it, were two entirely different things.

The flat was gone, levelled along with the rest of Baker Street since they hadn't responded to Moriarty's demand to turn over that damned artefact. Thirty-nine dead, Mrs Hudson included. NSY was in shambles after word had got out Moriarty was offering money and prestige to anyone willing to kill a cop. And somehow he got to Mycroft. Sherlock hadn't even been able to figure out what type of poison was used or how it had been administered.

The flat was a complete tip. Seriously, if John had to expend any more energy in trying to convince Sherlock to do his fair share of the cleaning and washing up he was going to snap. He knew the cases were important, but could the man not put a dish in the sink at least?

But Mary, god, Mary. They hadn't been quick enough to save her; the damn sniper had picked her off right in front of them and when John got his hands on Moriarty he was going to kill him. Sherlock was going to not only figure out why the so-called Charlottenburg artefact was so bloody important but also track that lunatic down and make him pay for what he'd done.

But Sherlock was above all that. All that mattered to him was the work. Of course, cleaning didn't matter when he was in the throes of solving a case! Food didn't even matter then. One of these days he was going to pass out and where would that get him? For a smart man, Sherlock was bloody stupid sometimes.

He darted out into traffic, trying to lose his tail, trying to stay alive long enough to get the damned artefact to Sherlock for a proper analysis, when...

He darted out into traffic, trying not to get hit, trying not to fall too far behind Sherlock who was, as usual, barely paying attention to anything around him, when...

A car came out of nowhere, Moriarty behind the wheel, and John knew it would hit him and then all would be lost.

A car came out of nowhere, the driver texting instead of looking at the road, and John knew it was going to hit him.

He flew through the air and landed with a sickening crunch on the pavement. The artefact, the stupid ugly mirror that was the reason everything had gone to hell, shattered under his weight, its glittery pieces slicing into his hand as he tried to push himself to his feet.

He flew through the air and landed with a sickening crunch on the pavement. Horns blared all around him and there was the sound of screeching tires as he tried to push himself to his feet.

Then Moriarty was walking up, gun in hand, firing shot after shot. As John fell he was dimly aware of a warm, tingling feeling from the shards as they dug into his hands.

Then Sherlock was running back, mobile in hand, calling for an ambulance. As John's arm collapsed under him he was dimly aware of another car approaching and that it wouldn't be able to stop in time.

Then there was darkness.

Then there was darkness.

And then he woke up.

The first thing John was aware of, before he even opened his eyes, was that he was in a hospital - not a private clinic or a cot hidden away from prying eyes where he could be getting treatment on the sly, the sounds were all wrong for that - a regular, ordinary, honest to god hospital. He had to get out of here before Moriarty found him. Who knew what that crazy bugger would do if he discovered John? There was so much potential for disaster, too many people put in harm's way just by his being here.

He had to flee before that could happen. He needed to sneak out and find Sherlock; he could do that. He could. Except he felt like he'd been run over by a tank. Twice. Which made sense since he knew he'd been hit by a car, but he also remembered gunshots and while his ribs felt broken and his head was killing him and there were bandages on his right hand and arm, there wasn't anything that remotely felt like bullet wounds or the surgery that would have been needed to remove them.

John took a deep breath and concentrated, focusing his efforts on everything that he could hear around him. He was in a private room, which was odd considering how crowded hospitals were thanks to Moriarty's current reign of terror. He could hear someone pacing in the hall outside his door. It was Sherlock, he'd know those footsteps anywhere. This was not good. Sherlock shouldn't be here. It was too open, too public. What the hell was he thinking? John was about to try to catch Sherlock's attention when he realised that Sherlock was talking on the phone.

"The doctors assure me he should be waking up shortly. Yes, while I appreciate- No, Mycroft, I don't-"

John's eyes flew open in shock. Mycroft? Mycroft was dead! Dead and gone in a painfully, poisoned to death, no way back kind of dead. Had Sherlock lost his mind? John needed to get himself and Sherlock out of here and to someplace safe. Quickly, John took stock of his surroundings. Typical private hospital room, so there was little to go on there. His things were bagged and sitting on the small side table. Sherlock's coat and scarf were over the back of the chair next to his bed. But, wait, they had been destroyed when Baker Street blew up. Sure, it was possible Sherlock might have gone out and gotten another similar coat, he was vain enough to always want to look good, but John knew for a fact that scarf had been a special order gift and was not replaceable.

How could that be? What the hell was going on?

His chart wasn't anywhere noticeable, but a quick examination of his injuries was alarming. Abrasions and contusions as well as numerous bruises. All plausible results of being struck by a car. He had broken ribs, he was familiar enough with how those felt, and the accompanying bruising implied CPR had been performed for a short time. His right hand was bandaged so he couldn't make a proper examination, but there appeared to be stitches from a deep laceration on his palm. Easier to ascertain, due to the headache, blurred vision, nausea and light sensitivity, was the fact he also suffered from a concussion.

No bullet wounds.

He distinctly remembered being shot. Several times. Moriarty had used a handgun; John had been too disoriented and injured to discern the make, but it lacked the kick of anything bigger than the standard SIG Sauer. Where were the bullet wounds? He had to get out of here and figure out what the hell was going on.

There must have been some noise he made or perhaps Sherlock had only stepped out for a moment, but before John had managed to do more than detach the monitor and swing his legs over the side of the bed Sherlock was in the room, shouting at him. "What do you think you are doing?"

"We can't stay here," John insisted, as he put a hand to his head and tried to fight back against the dizziness caused by being upright. "It's not safe."

"Because of that pathetically simple blackmailing case Mycroft foisted upon us?" Sherlock made a dismissive flick of his hand. "I was only humouring him, I've always found it helpful to accrue debts from my brother; you never know when they will come in handy."

"Blackmailing case?"

"Yes, yes, I know, Mycroft in his great and typical ineptitude presented it to us as a murder case and while it is true that the three so-called victims died, in fact it was a complex... Why are you staring at me like that? Do you have brain damage? The doctors assured me you were not seriously injured and that there would be no lasting effects, despite your momentary. Death. Yes. Well. Glad to see that you've. You're... Yes." Sherlock lapsed into an uneasy silence, pursed his lips and then clasped his hands behind his back and cleared his throat.

Strangely unwilling to admit to his confusion over recent events, John instead said, "I'm not that easy to get rid of."

"Thankfully not." Sherlock reached out and grabbed John's shoulder, gripping it tightly. "When that car. When I saw. What I mean to say is sometimes I forget how tenuous-"

"It's all right, Sherlock," John interrupted, since Sherlock was starting to look if he might be in the first stages of some sort of apoplexy due to the emotions he was attempting to deal with. "I'll be good as new in no time. If fact, if you can get me my chart I can give you a timetable as to when I can get out of here."

-----------------------------

Of course it wasn't that easy. Once the staff discovered he'd regained consciousness there were tests to be run and vitals to be taken and enough poking and prodding that John was exhausted and despairing of the idea of ever moving again. He had managed to get a quick glance at his chart, though, and what he had seen confirmed that something seriously odd was going on.

It was more than the lack of gunshot wounds from earlier today. He had scars from injuries he had no recollection of, and x-rays showed healed fractures of bones he had never broken. Some things were the same: the appendix scar, the damage from the bullet that had ended his military career, the records of the stitches and tetanus shot after cutting his arm on that fence during the Smitherson case. It was as if he had lived the life he remembered up until a certain point and then gone sideways.

He was staring at his hands, trying to play everything he knew out in his mind when he noticed his wedding ring was missing. Not missing, actually, more than missing. There was no sign he'd ever even worn the ring. No change in skin tone, no mark on the finger, no scraping of the knuckle due to its removal, nothing that would indicate he'd ever regularly worn a wedding ring, let alone had one on earlier that day.

He wasn't addled, he refused to believe that about himself. However, his memory did not match with the facts of the world around him. Which meant, what exactly? It was more than just the concussion messing with him, too many facts that no longer fit. Differences in his chart. Mycroft was alive. John had never married. Did that mean Mary was alive too? So, he had somehow had crossed into a... what would the correct term be? Alternate universe? Alternative timeline? How? More importantly, how could he get back? Would it even be possible? And, considering how badly things were faring where he came from, did he truly want to?

The key had to be that ruddy artefact Moriarty had been so determined to get his hands on. Somehow Moriarty must have known it was, what? Magical? Alien? Special. Moriarty must have known it was special and planned on using it himself, but then John's falling on it and breaking it must have caused it to activate.... Which was all well and good as far as epiphanies went, but knowing that helped him how?

At that moment, Sherlock returned, carrying the teas John had sent him for to get him out from being underfoot while the doctors did their examinations. "Did you get yourself something to eat as well?" he asked, glad for something to focus on other than his own situation.

"I purchased a sandwich in the cafe as ordered," Sherlock replied. His dry, bored tone would have concealed his concern from anyone other than John.

John purposely teased Sherlock by making a grabbing motion for the tea in an attempt to put him at ease, at least a little bit. "Purchased does not specify consumed, Sherlock."

"True," Sherlock acknowledged with a nod, placing both cups on the small side table and pushing it within John's reach. "But in this case I saw no reason not to fully follow your orders, considering not doing so would only result in raising your ire and I have no desire to cause you further injury as a result of your incessant and inexplicable worry over my health."

"And you were hungry." John smiled as he took a quick sip of the sweet, milky tea. Sherlock had prepared it just as he liked it.

"And I was hungry." Sherlock threw himself down into the visitor's chair with a dramatic huff. "What did the doctors say?"

"The usual. I'll need to take it easy for a few weeks. Knee's twisted, there wasn't any cartilage damage but I should still keep off it as much as possible for the first day or two. I'll have to be careful not to get the stitches wet. Oh, and the bandages are to be changed daily. Luckily I can do that myself." He made a dismissive gesture with his uninjured hand. "Nothing we haven't heard before."

"What was the consensus regarding your head injury and... your ribs?" Sherlock was avoiding making eye contact during the question, choosing to stare into his tea instead, a sure sign of his discomfort at the gravity of John's current injuries.

"The resuscitation was a bit rough, yeah, and I certainly got my bell rung, but it's nothing with permanent consequences. From now on I'll just have to keep a better eye on the traffic when I cross the street, right?" It wasn't the most subtle manner of fishing for information that John had ever attempted, but by keeping his tone light he hoped it came off as teasing instead of questioning.

"We both will." Sherlock shook his head, probably lost in the memory of John's accident (assuming it was an accident in this world; it seemed like it was) and didn't say anything else, taking a long sip of his tea instead.

"I'll have to spend the night, there's no getting around that, I'm afraid. It'll probably be late morning before they're willing to sign off on my release. You don't have to stay. I'm sure there are cases you should be working on or experiments you'd rather be doing."

"No, I," Sherlock began, but he was interrupted by a brisk knock on the door.

"John? Sherlock?" Lestrade poked his head in, a look of relief washing over his face when he saw the two of them. "I just heard. Anything involving the two of you is always sent straight to my desk, but this time around his nibs," he gestured with his chin to Sherlock, "didn't put up the usual fuss at the scene so there wasn't any paperwork as a result and no one thought to notify me about what had happened. You all right?"

John couldn't help his goofy smile upon seeing Lestrade standing there, snarky and worried and, most importantly, alive. "I'm fine, Greg. A little worse for wear, but I'll live."

"Thank god," Lestrade muttered, and some of the tension slipped out of his posture as, at John's motion to enter, he stepped into the room and ran a critical eye over them both. "As bad as the two of you are for my blood pressure, dealing with Sherlock on his own?" He ran a hand through his hair and huffed. "No. I am not going back to that. Sorry, John, but you've not got my permission to die and leave him to work my crime scenes alone. I just won't stand for it."

"Duly noted," John replied dryly. "And let me say how touched I am by your concern."

"I was not that bad," Sherlock grumbled into his tea.

"Yeah, you were." Lestrade patted Sherlock on the shoulder, but then left his hand there in the light, supporting manner they both knew Sherlock secretly appreciated.

"Still are, sometimes," John said, not even trying to hide the smile on his face. "And don't give me that look, Mr 'I know what I'm doing is terribly dangerous, but it's for an experiment', because I know you too well."

Sherlock pursed his lips as if he were about to protest further, but snorted and chose not to, most likely knowing it would be for naught. Instead, he pulled out his mobile and began determinedly poking about on it.

Lestrade gave Sherlock a fond look, shaking his head before looking over to John. "Can I do anything for you, John? Fetch you something from Baker Street, make some calls, that sort of thing?"

Pushing aside his relief at the throw-away mention of Baker Street - it must still be standing in this world, thank god - John pointed to Sherlock and said, "Can you take this one home for me?"

"John!" Sherlock began, his head whipping up and a look of righteous indignation on his face.

"Hospital visitor chairs are horrid. There's no need for you to spend the night here in one when there's a perfect good sofa back at Baker Street for you to swan about on." John held up his hand before Sherlock could say anything else. "You'll be bored out of your mind if you stay and I won't get any sleep with you fidgeting about. It's hard enough to get any rest here, what with the nurses coming in to take vitals and whatnot. You'd be doing me a favour." It was a bald-faced lie. John could sleep anywhere and under any circumstance, it was a skill learned in academia and honed in war, but if Sherlock was aware of the mistruth, he showed no sign. "Please. And bringing a change of clothes in the morning would be appreciated, I've no desire to wear these scrubs any longer than I have to." Said scrubs were a lovely shade of green that ensured any patient wearing them looked sicker and paler than they actually were. John's hatred of them didn't even have to be exaggerated.

Sherlock looked at John for a moment, really looked in that overly critical way of his where John felt he was being peeled apart piece by piece, but he must not have deduced anything too unexpected because he stood and tossed his nearly empty tea into the bin in one smooth motion. "I am not going to sleep tonight."

"I know."

"And I will be back early tomorrow morning."

"I know."

"I want you to make sure that you have easy access to this at all times," Sherlock said as he began digging into the bag of John's things. He eventually unearthed a mobile; John assumed it was his own (or, more precisely, his counterpart in this world's mobile) even if it wasn't familiar and held out his uninjured hand in preparation for Sherlock to drop it into it. Instead of a casual toss or hurried pass, Sherlock pressed the phone into John's hand and then wrapped both his hands around it. "At all times," he repeated. "I checked earlier, it's undamaged from the accident. If you require anything, no matter the hour, you will ring me." It was a statement. There was no room left for refusal.

John nodded. "Of course."

"I will see you in the morning then." Sherlock nodded, half to himself and half to John, before swishing around and striding out of the room, shouting, "Come on, Lestrade," over his shoulder.

John caught Lestrade's eye and offered a heartfelt, "thank you," which was immediately brushed off, just as John had suspected it would be.

"Glad to see you're all right, John, relatively speaking. And don't worry, I'll see him home safe."

"I never had any doubt."

Lestrade touched two fingers to his forelock in farewell and then hurried to catch up with Sherlock, who was making some sort of commotion in the hall. John couldn't make out the words, but there was a back-and-forth between Lestrade and Sherlock for a moment and then their voices faded as they made their way down the corridor.

The mobile wasn't anything special, a slightly fancier version of the one he was used to, the upgrade he'd been considering getting for a while now but hadn't found the time. Luckily the passcode was the same one he'd used since he'd given up trying to keep Sherlock out of any of his electronics, because trying to explain why he couldn't unlock it would have not been easy.

The first thing he noticed was that today's date was the same. That was something vaguely comforting at least. It meant he hadn't jumped in time or anything completely ridiculous like that. No. No time travel, he had merely crossed into an alternate universe. How that was the better option, he didn't know, but it was, wasn't it? Somewhat?

He went through the mobile slowly, carefully. A good number of the contacts were the same, although he didn't recognise a few and there were some notably missing. Harry had a new number, for example, and there was contact information for Sally of all people, but not for Mary. The photos were nearly entirely different, mostly shots of cases he never worked on and places he'd apparently been with Sherlock that he had no memory of. Again, nothing whatsoever involving Mary.

Maybe his blog would have something?

Opening it up, he froze at the long list of unfamiliar cases he saw there. Nothing about the wedding, which was expected considering his revelation about the lack of a ring, but the sheer number of cases he'd written up was mindboggling. He'd documented three or four cases or so a month every month for... years.

There was no break in their cases.

No sign that Sherlock had ever jumped.

That he had ever died.

John had to take a deep breath as he considered the ramifications of that.

If Sherlock hadn't died then John would never have moved out of Baker Street. There would have been no reason to have sought out a new job because it offered more hours and without Sherlock to chase after he had too much time on his hands. The result? He'd never have had the occasion to meet Mary.

He leaned back against the pillow. Never going through the pain of losing Sherlock, of watching the best friend he'd ever had jump to his death right in front of him and not be able to do a thing to stop it? On the one hand that sounded like heaven. But all that pain had resulted in him meeting Mary and finding the kind of love he'd never imagined possible. A wife. A-

No, he cut off that line of thought before it could start because he couldn't stop to think about that now. He wouldn't.

Focus on the issue at hand, he told himself. It was reasonable to assume that the artefact was responsible for bringing him to this world, either due to the act of its breaking or its shards cutting him or some combination of those two things and it was possible that his significant injuries if not outright death had something to do with it as well. It probably had been death, or damned close anyway; he remembered the shooting and the pain of the bullets. That many shots? At that range? Yeah, death was the likely result.

Had the shards travelled with him to this world? The injury to his hand certainly had and the notes in his file mentioned the removal of debris from the wound. Would he need the shards to travel back or would he need the artefact intact? Did the artefact exist in this world? It should; the majority of things appeared to be the same.

On that note, why had he been shuttled over to this world, he wondered. Why this one in particular? Did it have something to do with the similarity of the injuries? After all, the John Watson here had been hit by a car just as he had been, although, from Sherlock's reaction, the injury sustained from the impact itself had been more significant. There was also the CPR to consider. Had this world's John died due to his injuries or had he caused that by coming here? Both were equally unpleasant ideas. There also was the issue of what had happened to his own body back home. Had he switched places with this John or was the body he had left behind now an empty husk or missing or....

His head was swimming with 'what ifs' and 'but how did that work' and questions about just what the hell he was going to do now, none of which was going to get him anywhere. He needed to focus. Right. He'd need time to figure all this out, which meant not having anyone notice anything different about him and when it came to Sherlock... Well, that was going to be damned impossible. So, first things first. What were the differences between the two John Watsons?

A quick spot-check of the news prior to the whole "Richard Brook" fiasco showed that the majority of it was basically the same, but by then the battery on his mobile was dying and he was having more and more trouble focusing on the text and he just couldn't concentrate any longer so he closed his eyes and decided to try to sleep. Maybe he'd wake up tomorrow to find this had all been some bizarre dream and he was back in the world he was used to; even if it had been rather a disaster when he left, it was home.

-----------------------------

When John awoke Sherlock was there sitting perched on the visitor's chair, his hands steepled in front of his face and fingers tapping against his lips. "I did warn you," he commented the moment he noticed John's eyes on him.

"I didn't really expect anything else." A little shifting eased the ache of his ribs, but overall he loathed the thought of moving ever again. Injuries were always so much worse the second day as the bruising had a chance to make itself known. "Did you get any rest?"

Sherlock waved away the question as immaterial; he never had been overly concerned about his own health, to John's constant consternation. "The doctors are apparently unwilling to release you before they perform more tests. Something about cognitive functioning and red cell counts."

"That's fairly standard. They need to," John began to explain before breaking off and frowning at Sherlock. "You talked to my doctors?"

"Of course."

"But doctor-patient confidentiality... Right, never mind, what was I thinking?" Really he should know better by now, this was Sherlock after all; he wasn't going to let a little thing like the law get between him and the information he wanted. "So," he began instead, "tell me about the case. You said it wasn't murder? It was just blackmail or something?"

John had no knowledge of the case Sherlock and this world's John had been working on before he arrived, but Sherlock had made vague mention of it before and, as always with Sherlock, the chance to show off was irresistible. Sherlock launched into a detailed explanation of the various clues and suppositions that Mycroft had missed or, at least, misrepresented when he'd presented the case to them and the incorrect analyses that had therefore resulted.

The story lasted throughout John's breakfast (truly terrible tea, something presenting as scrambled eggs and a piece of surprisingly decent wheat toast), paused when the nurse arrived to draw blood and take some basic vitals and continued once John returned from his MRI and CAT scan. It was an interesting enough case, but due to the political nature of the victims and the blackmail, it wasn't one John would consider writing up so he didn't have to worry about concentrating on the minutia he would have needed to document it later.

Although he wasn't giving it his full attention, or at least as much attention he might under other circumstances, it was a bit of brilliant deducing by Sherlock and John didn't have to fake the appreciable noises of interest and impressed exclamations that he made when Sherlock paused for effect throughout the telling of his story.

The discharging process was both excruciating and boring, an odd combination even on his best days. He didn't want to muddle his brain with drugs; he needed to stay sharp or he might do something or saying something that his counterpart in this world wouldn't (do something more atypical, god knows Sherlock could and probably would pick up on a thousand little tics and unconscious tells, but there was nothing he could really do about that) so he only accepted the paracetamol instead of anything stronger.

It was early afternoon by the time they arrived back at Baker Street and John was exhausted. He limped up the stairs and slowly sank onto the sofa rather than attempting to continue on to his room. Sherlock had been carrying John's things, and, without a word, dropped them on the coffee table before stalking into the kitchen. From the clanking that followed John assumed there was an attempt at tea going on.

John took the opportunity to dig through his possessions from the hospital. He'd asked one of the nurses if the shards, which he'd claimed were the broken pieces of a good luck charm, had been saved and she'd assured him that they'd been put in plastic bags and put aside for safe keeping, although she'd warned him they hadn't been cleaned terribly well. The fact that they might have some blood on them didn't bother him, he was just glad to have some sort of tangible proof of the artefact and the insanity that had become his life. Lives. Whatever.

And there they were. He'd taken two shards with him when he travelled to this world. It was only because he knew what it had looked like originally that he could see that the small one was a piece of the top corner of the mirror, a square inch of the mirror's glass with bit of the ceramic border still attached that jutted out to form a sharp point; it was probably responsible for the deep laceration he'd had to have stitched up. The larger piece was maybe twice that size, the mirror clouded and stained with a spider-webbing of cracks running through the centre of it. Its edges were sharp, but more rounded, less damaging, and therefore were probably what had caused the superficial cuts to his palm. Judging from his memories of what the artefact had looked like originally, it appeared that a little over half of it hadn't made the trip. He wasn't sure what that meant in the greater scheme of things, if it meant anything at all.

"I was unable to ascertain the significance of those," Sherlock commented as he walked out of the kitchen carrying the fixings for tea as well as a plate of homemade biscuits that had probably been left by Mrs Hudson earlier in the day. He held the tea set with both arms outstretched so it was as far away from him as possible, as if he was personally affronted by its very existence. "Or how you came to have them clutched in your palm."

"Clutched?" John asked, looking down to examine the bandage on his right hand as he assumed Sherlock would expect after such a declaration. "These caused the lacerations?"

"Yes." Sherlock began pouring the tea, preparing John's as he usually took it but adding an obscene amount of sugar to his own, a sure sign of inadequate amounts of sleep on his part. Sherlock had eschewed any drug more serious than caffeine and nicotine patches for years, but he was not above simple sources of energy if the occasion called for it.

There was a moment's delay as John instinctively reached out to take the tea with his left hand, but then paused since he was still holding the bags with the shards in it. He switched and went to grab the mug with his right hand, but again paused, this time due to the bandages since they'd affect his grip and the last thing he wanted was to spill tea all over himself. "Sorry," he said, putting the remains of the artefact down on the table and finally claiming his tea from Sherlock. "Thank you."

Sherlock merely nodded in that 'I don't understand the emotion required for a proper response and do not wish to go through the effort of faking an appropriate one so I am dismissing it out of hand and moving on' way of his and pulled the desk chair over before sprawling on it and picking up his own tea.

"I've left word with your service that you're not to be called in for the next two weeks as per the discharge papers' recommendations."

His service? Right. If Sherlock hadn't died it was unlikely he'd felt the need to find fulltime employment so he was probably still filling in on an as-needed basis whenever his schedule was free. "You actually read those?" John asked, a little surprised. Sherlock was not typically interested in the wellbeing of people. "No one reads those."

"Then why do they continue to provide them?"

John shrugged. "Covering their arses, I guess."

A comfortable quiet settled between them as they drank their tea. John ate a few biscuits when Sherlock foisted them on him and eventually, after checking the dosage, downed the prescribed medications that the hospital had sent home with him.

After an unexpected nap, John awoke a few hours later to Sherlock having blanketed the table and most of the floor with various news clippings. "I got bored," Sherlock commented when John gave him a questioning look. "We've been so busy; I haven't had a chance to properly go through these in weeks."

Supposing he was lucky that Sherlock had refrained from coving the sofa and himself as well, John just said, "Right." However, considering the state of the floor and that John wasn't completely steady on his feet, it meant he wouldn't be going anywhere soon. "Fine. Although, considering that you've blocked me in, would you pass me my laptop so I can check my email?"

Looking a bit surprised that John wasn't saying anything more about the mess, Sherlock carefully stepped around the piles to hand it over before attacking yet another newspaper with a pair of scissors.

"I don't suppose there's any chance today's paper survived your onslaught intact," John began before breaking off with a sigh at Sherlock's grimace. "Never mind. I'll just look online."

"There was an interesting article in today's Star involving the actions of two circus performers, a banker and a shop girl that I clipped. Here, I can find it for you. It's..." Sherlock began poking about in the piles.

"No, no, that's all right," John said quickly, patting the laptop. "You keep on with what you're doing, There's plenty to keep myself busy on the internet."

Sherlock raised an eyebrow at that. John repeated what he'd just said in his head and then winced at what it might have implied, but he figured he was fresh out of the hospital and still recovering, and as a result he deserved some slack. Since Sherlock didn't comment on it, John just powered up the computer and got to work.

His internet skills had improved under Mary's tutelage. He had been lectured on the finer points of private browsing and preventing cookies and all sorts of things that had become second nature over the last year and then when everything went to hell and everyone died... Sherlock had been impressed when he'd first seen John's new skill set, but then said his lessons hadn't gone far enough and proceeded to teach him even more, probably illegal but definitely untrackable, techniques.

Stealth was important now. It wasn't just putting off the inevitable. Sure, he would try to keep Sherlock from learning he wasn't the John he had been before that car accident, considering he wasn't entirely sure what and how it happened explaining it would be nigh on impossible, but that wasn't the only thing he was worried about.

No, first and foremost would be Moriarty.

By all appearances Moriarty was dead in this world. But everyone had thought that to be the case back in the world John had come from, and hadn't that turned out to have been a horrible mistake? There was something John had heard on some American television show Mary had watched once: 'when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me'. He'd had enough of having his arse handed to him because he wasn't prepared. It wasn't going to happen to him in this world, not again.

From the articles and notes he could find, at least two of the cases this world's John and Sherlock had worked recently had tell-tale signs of being connected to Moriarty's network, although he could see nothing that indicated that any kind of connection had been previously made by anyone at the time. They must have noticed something about them though, since in one of the blog posts John had mentioned that Sherlock had been very happy that the many layers of the case had made it unusually difficult. There was also an editorial in the New York Times that commented on the complexity of the other case and how it was possible that Sherlock Holmes was the only man alive who could have solved it.

Two cases didn't prove anything though, so John delved further. He discovered that after an exhaustive inventory had been completed, the Bodleian had announced last year that several manuscripts that were supposed to be in their collection were missing. They weren't officially considered to be stolen or lost, just temporarily misplaced, probably due to a filing error, but John found the wording of the report suspicious. Last January the Natural History Museum in New York had suffered through a rash of pranksters pulling fire alarms. Evidence pointed to the perpetrators being nothing more than bored teenagers since nothing had been damaged or stolen. Nine months ago there had been a break in at the Redpath Museum in Montréal; the thieves had been caught before leaving the building. Oddly, all they had been attempting to steal were some fairly commonplace minerals and gems of no significant value whatsoever.

All in all, seventeen museums, libraries and archives had reported suspicious activity of one sort or another within the last three years. Most telling, to John anyway, was the fire at the Þjóðminjasafn Íslands, the National Museum of Iceland. It had been blamed on faulty wiring; luckily the fire department had responded immediately, resulting in only some minor smoke and water damage to an old storage area. Considering the storage room had been the last known home for the artefact that Moriarty had been obsessed with back in his world, John doubted the electrical surge was as simple an occurrence as the arson investigators were making it out to be.

Using standard search techniques, he was unable find anything about the current whereabouts of the artefact at all. He decided against trying to sneak past paywalls and into the deep web. His skills weren't bad, but even the most skilled hacker risked leaving a trace when doing that kind of thing and John wanted to avoid the chance that he might raise flags or draw attention to himself whenever possible and for as long as he could.

If only there had been a chance for Sherlock to examine the artefact in his world before it had been destroyed. They'd pored over the pictures, sure, but that was by no means the same thing and Sherlock hadn't been able to determine any hidden meaning or code hidden within the ceramics of it. They'd read everything the experts had published about it, but since these were the same people that had allowed the artefact to moulder in storage for years, mislabelled and ignored before being noticed by a junior curator who then tied it to a trove of items once owned by Prussia's Friedrich I, Sherlock hadn't put much stock in their competence, especially considering no one was able to provide a provenance for it, let alone explain how something supposedly from Charlottenburg Palace had ended up languishing in a museum in Iceland for decades, if not longer.

John scrubbed his hand over his face. Hours of research and what did he have? A few facts, a little supposition and a hell of a lot of guesswork. All of which got him nowhere. Not really. There was no concrete proof that Moriarty was alive, nothing that John could even pinpoint to his organization. He couldn't even be sure the artefact existed in this world, or if it did, that Moriarty was interested in it. Signs pointed to this being the case, but the hard evidence proving as much was lacking.

It was so frustrating. He missed having someone to talk to, to work things through with. He missed Mary. He missed her laugh. He missed her touch. He missed his old life before Moriarty had returned and everything went to hell. He missed his world. And he had no idea what he could do to get back to it.

If he could get back to it.

If he really wanted to.

Chapter Text

Sherlock attempted to focus on the files he was sorting. While he accessed many things online these days, he'd always found that having hardcopies of data could be advantageous. Different media sparked his ability to draw connections and make deductions in different ways. He didn't have time to organize his files often enough, although it was an important job and could be necessary to his work. Unfortunately he'd always found it somewhat tedious, all that cutting and sorting, and his ability to concentrate on the task at hand was not aided by the way in his attention kept wavering toward John.

Feelings and emotions were not his forte. John had died and surely that was something he needed to address? At least more than his bungling comments at the hospital anyway. Or did he? John knew him well enough to not expect the maudlin, sentimental drivel that most people spouted at such times. Besides, John wasn't the type to accept such things. He had brushed off Lestrade's attempt as he'd sent them away last night and upon returning to Baker Street he'd accepted no more than a brief moment of emotional nattering from Mrs Hudson when she'd met them at the door before escaping up to the flat.

After all, John had died, or at least had almost died, once before and other than the fervent wish that he live he'd not been affected by it or thought about it overly much. Well, or so he claimed; Sherlock had never been certain if that assertion should be taken at face value or not. He rather assumed it shouldn't be, but John was too British and was too entrenched in his stiff-upper-lipped military persona to have it any other way.

Perhaps it was because he was so adamant that he not read John and not see the injuries and signs of his recent brush with death, but whenever Sherlock found his gaze straying to John he always had difficulty interpreting what he saw. On the surface the facts were the same. Former military was easy to ascertain (both the posture and haircut gave it away) as was his profession and medical skills (the crease on the collar and musculature on the fingers). One couldn't miss his thrifty nature (so many clues there) or his kindness (also terribly prevalent), the fact he owned an illegal handgun (how the Yard had missed that all these years was rather hard to believe, even acknowledging their ineptitude) or that he tended to overwork himself on a regular basis. But whenever Sherlock tried to look deeper he found himself distracted by the injuries (the scrape by his ear where he had hit the pavement which only reminded him of the horrible way John's head had bounced at the impact. The bandaging on his hand from the inexplicable shards. Where had they come from?) and unable to focus to read him properly.

And he needed to focus. Because, why did John touch his thumb to the inside of the ring finger on his left hand so often? It was a move that made no sense in a confirmed bachelor and not one Sherlock had observed before. Why was he showing signs of being nervous? The distress made sense, emotional responses to physical injuries were typical, but nervousness was a departure from his typically affable demeanour. There was also John's typing skill to consider. John had always been a hunt-and-peck typist; why was he now typing with relative ease, only hampered by the bandage on his hand? Had he been hiding his true skills for some reason? Or had his skills improved recently without Sherlock noticing? That was unlikely, although technically possible.

Sherlock noted all his questions and committed them to the proper place within his mind palace as he gathered up the piles and filed them away for later. Confronting John about any deductions Sherlock had made about him tended to end badly. While John appreciated hearing what he had learned from observing others, comments made about John's own weight gain or poor sartorial skills and the like had, more often than not, resulted in John storming out of the flat in a huff, and John was in no condition to go anywhere at the moment. No, Sherlock would have to wait and gather more evidence.

The slam of a car door outside drew Sherlock's attention. Not just any car door, but a police issue- and yes, that was Lestrade's knock on the door below. Mrs Hudson opened it almost immediately; she must have been dusting the front hall as she had a tendency to do when she was overly nervous about her tenants but unwilling to push her way into their business. Sherlock noted with interest that John had shifted, moving the laptop to the coffee table and tilting it slightly more towards facing the door, and he had done so before the knock, perhaps even as early as when the car pulled up to the kerb. He was rarely as attentive to his environment as that when at home. On cases John tended toward being alert, sometimes to the point of being hyper-vigilant, but at the flat? No.

John relaxed slightly at the tread on the stairs, even before Lestrade turned the corner and came into view. "Hello, Greg," he called. Interestingly, John's voice was calm, but resigned. He must have ascertained both the visitor and the urgency of the visit, as Sherlock already had. Sherlock's influence regarding deductive reasoning skills was finally beginning to be put to use. It had certainly taken long enough. "I take it this isn't a social call."

"Unfortunately, no." Lestrade had obviously come to the flat straight from a crime scene; there were bits of something (splinters of wood perhaps? Sherlock couldn't tell from where he was standing) in his hair and his coat was ruffled from being thrown off and tugged back on in a hurry. "Just up your alley. Locked room murder. Well, we think," he said, offering a folder. That was unusual as the police rarely wished official documents and evidence to leave their control, especially when an investigation was still ongoing. "The department is getting a lot of pressure to solve this one quickly - the victim had friends in high places and all that - I figured there was no way I'd be able to drag you out to see it, not with John just out of hospital, but I was hoping you could take a look? Give us a little direction, something so we can say we're exploring all avenues."

That was a surprising, but welcome, bit of foresight from Lestrade; it was true that Sherlock would not have relished leaving John in his current condition, although admitting as much would not have been easy. Knowing that despite his injuries John would insist on standing and looking at the information, Sherlock began spreading them out on the coffee table so they could both examine them with ease. "You are uncertain it is murder. What was the cause of death?" he asked.

"Some sort of poisoning or forced allergic reaction. The initial toxicology report was inconsistent. We've sent a sample away for more indepth analysis, but it'll take time to hear back from them and I'd really like something to take back to the bosses." Lestrade bent over the photos, sorting though them before pointing to one. "The bite, or possibly injection mark, is here. Two marks, about four millimetres deep, although considering the swelling it's a bit hard to tell. As you can see the room he was found in was small, without windows. It was locked from the inside, door had to be broken open with an axe no less, and the alarm on the house showed the last activity was the maid leaving at five PM last night until she returned at nine this morning. According to her, the victim's - Thomas Witherspoon, retired historian by the way- usual routine was to eat the dinner she'd leave for him, work on his memoirs in his office for an hour or two, and then watch telly for a bit before heading to bed."

Throughout Lestrade's report John had continued to examine the photograph of the wound site; first and foremost John would always be a doctor, he would always find the medical aspect of a mystery the most interesting part. "Did he keep snakes?" he asked when Lestrade paused in his recital of the facts of the case.

"No. There was a, what do you call it, tank. No. Terrarium? Witherspoon had kept a lizard of some kind at one point, but not now."

"But was it still set up? With a heat lamp and whatnot?"

"Yeah, in the corner of the office. Why?" Lestrade tilted his head as he gave John a long look. "What are you thinking?"

"Well, that," John said, tapping the photo on the mark, "is the bite mark of a snake. A saw-scaled viper, to be specific."

"There'd been some suspicion it was a snake bite, but we'd discounted it. There's nothing in England that could do that to a man."

"Indigenous, no. But I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty that's what this is. We saw them in Afghanistan sometimes, learned what to look out for and how to treat them. The venom's very lethal and there's a high mortality rate, especially when treatment isn't immediately forthcoming."

"How fast acting is it?" Sherlock asked.

"The swelling at point of injection begins almost immediately." John rubbed his chin as he thought, eyes half closed, remembering. "Spontaneous systemic bleeding is the next symptom about half the time, followed by disseminated intravascular coagulation in all cases and then, well, if not dosed with aggressive antivenom treatments, death."

"What's the timeline?" Lestrade's note taking had stopped, his pen pausing over trying to parse out 'disseminated intravascular coagulation' no doubt.

"From bite to death? Without treatment? It can be as little as an hour and a half or as long as nearly a day."

"Oh, clever. Very clever." Sherlock was actually impressed; murders rarely were planned so beautifully. "The door to the office is usually kept closed, yes?" Lestrade nodded. "Witherspoon considered it his sanctum, no doubt, the help wouldn't have been allowed in on a regular basis. So all the murderer had to do was leave the snake in the empty tank and wait for it to escape into the office at large or for Witherspoon to notice it and become curious - the specifics of how he came to be bitten don't matter - just that the snake was planted in a manner ensuring it was likely he would be. There is no phone on the desk in these pictures, and as this is obviously a place he goes where he doesn't wish to be disturbed it is unlikely he brings a mobile in with him, so once he was bitten he has no way of summoning help."

"You don't have to sound so approving," Lestrade murmured as he pulled out his mobile. "Donovan? Watson says it's a snake bite. Yeah, I know, but when it comes to things like these. Right. Now, I need you to clear the area, we're dealing with a saw-scaled viper and I don't want to risk anyone else getting bit." Shifting the mobile away from his mouth, he addressed John, "Anything you can tell me about these snakes?"

"Very aggressive and to be avoided at all costs. Often they'll rub their scales together before striking so have your team keep an ear out for a hissing sort of noise, although, more often than not, once you hear that it's too late."

Lestrade shook his head and snorted. "Great." Turning his attention back to the mobile, he said, "He says- oh good, you got that. Right. I'll be heading back now, put in a call to the RSPCA, see what they can do in cases like this."

"Will you be wanting any more of our assistance?" Sherlock didn't bother to ask if they would need the help, this was Scotland Yard after all, that was a given.

"I think we've enough to go on for now," Lestrade said, with only the slightest amount of frustrated annoyance in his voice. "I think we can handle finding the snake and figuring out how it came to London on our own. And I'm sure we're also quite capable of acquiring the data from the alarm service company and canvassing the area to see who might have had access to the house earlier in the week."

John had begun gathering the papers together, but his movements were stiff and his breathing slightly laboured so Sherlock took over and swept everything up and back into the folder in one deft move. "I'll see you out," he said, gesturing to the door with the papers.

"Right, thanks for the help, John. Glad to see you're on the mend."

As he pushed Lestrade out of the room, Sherlock noticed that John gave an aborted nod and partial smile as a response, a sure sign of him being in significant pain. He led the way down the stairs, pausing at the front door. "John's not doing as well as he appears. He needs. He almost...." Lestrade stopped his blundering words with a squeeze to his shoulder.

"You've both had a bad shock. John may be a bit worse for wear at the moment, but he'll bounce back. You don't have to coddle him."

"No, he wouldn't react well to that."

"But maybe be a little less like you around him, yeah?"

"Less like me."

"Make the tea, get the milk, bring in food... That kind of thing. Out of the two of you, it's John who takes on the responsibility of making sure neither of you die of scurvy. It's what he does, who he is. I'm not saying take that role away from him, but lessen it a bit?" Lestrade squeezed his shoulder once more, before tapping it and then removing his hand. "I've this case, but if you need me, call."

"I will," Sherlock said as Lestrade walked past him to his car. "Thank you," he called after him before he shut the door.

Taking care of John without making him seem an invalid was not dreadful advice, if difficult to implement. John had seemed to appreciate the tea earlier, although not being forced to take his medicine. Running back up the steps, he decided that John's reaction was immaterial. The pills were necessary; if they weren't to be taken they wouldn't have been prescribed.

He flung the door to the flat open perhaps a bit too hard. It crashed into the side table and knocked some papers to the ground. Had the side table always been so close to the door? No, Mrs Hudson must have moved it the last time she hoovered. This was a rather poor placement for it. He should-

"Christ! Sherlock!" Standing in front of the window, John had spun around at the noise, surging forward before freezing stock still, suddenly terribly pale and looking rather unwell.

Sherlock rushed across the room and grabbed John by the arms, since he was appearing to be more and more unsteady by the minute. Fine tremors. Shaky, unsteady breathing. Shock. "John?" he called softly, hoping not to startle him further, but there was no reaction. John didn't appear to see him despite looking straight at him. "John! It's all right." Belatedly, Sherlock realised he had never learned how to treat shock, or if he had the information it was squirreled away in his mind palace and it would take too long to find and retrieve and-

"Sherlock?" John's voice was shaky and soft, weak in a way he wasn't used to hearing.

"I'm here. I'm right here." He aimed for a soothing tone, but considering how out of his element he was (emotions? He didn't do emotions but John had almost died - had died - and now John looked broken and like he was about to fall apart and it was partially, mostly, all his fault) he wasn't sure he succeeded.

"I. I." He swayed slightly in Sherlock's grip, seeming to only stay upright due to a combination of force of will and Sherlock's intervention.

"Perhaps you should sit," Sherlock suggested, subtly leading John back to the sofa. Or, to be accurate, firmly shoving him in its direction.

Once his legs butted up against the cushion, John lowered himself down carefully with a little support from Sherlock. He winced as he leant back, the combination of the back of the sofa and the angle of seat obviously giving his ribs some difficulty. The pain seemed to ground him somewhat, however and he blinked a few times before letting out a long, low breath. "Sorry. You surprised me and I turned too fast."

"You're overdue your meds," Sherlock said as opposed to continuing in what could be an awkward conversation by either apologizing himself or acknowledging John's momentary moment of weakness.

Except, John showed signs of lying. The dart of the eyes to the left. The tic of the muscle in the jaw. Why would he lie about being surprised or physically reacting poorly to sudden movement? Or was he embarrassed by a PTSD-like reaction to the noise of the door?

Sherlock needed more data.

But before that Sherlock needed to deal with the issue at hand. John had displayed signs of needing his medicine. A meal would not be remiss either. It was mid afternoon and they'd both apparently forgotten about lunch. Lestrade was right, one of them was going to have to be responsible for seeing to their nutritional needs and John was apparently not able to in his current condition.

"We should eat as well. I'll order something in. Any requests?" he asked as he pulled out his mobile. After a moment's pause John shook his head. "Well, then, I'll just go take a look at the menus." He gestured toward the drawer they lived in, but John didn't seem to be paying attention any longer. Sherlock took that opportunity to escape into the kitchen; he needed to think, to figure out what was going on. If anything was going on.

And he needed to order food as well, dammit. He loathed having to call restaurants and deal with the tedious but necessary minutia of making sure every aspect of an order was correct. Usually John would take care of that.

But not today. No, today he would suffer such indignities since John was obviously unable to. And then he would have to surmise whether John was merely reacting normally for the progression of his injuries, or if John was hiding something from him, and if he was, what that entailed and why.

Chapter Text

The next few days were hard for John; physically he was recovering, but it was slow going. Concussions, with their nagging headache and effects on his ability to focus, were always annoying and his healing ribs made any sort of movement at all painful and the two combined to prevent any restful sleep. The stitches in his hand itched constantly and the medicine that Sherlock was, for some reason, insisting he take left him slightly nauseous and feeling muddled.

Making everything more difficult, his PTSD was also acting up. He'd not had too many incidents in the past few years; right after getting released from the service they had been frequent, and there had been a predictable uptick after both the bomb vest incident and the bonfire, but overall it had never felt like it was getting the better of him and that was no longer the case. It had started his first day out of hospital, his second day here, when Sherlock had startled him so badly he'd nearly passed out and since then little things that should have been insignificant just kept setting him off.

Being back at 221b was strange. He'd not lived in the flat for some time in his world, and as a result being in his room reminded him of when he'd returned home from uni for break and everything was familiar but nothing felt exactly right. It was similar to the feeling you had when you noticed that a favourite jumper got a bit too tight in the shoulders or had begun to rub at the nape of the neck and you were left wondering if it had always fitted you that way or if you'd grown and changed and somehow not noticed.

He wasn't sleeping well either. He was no longer used to sleeping alone and at night he would forget everything that had happened and drowsily reach out, but instead of the comforting warmth of Mary he'd find nothing but empty air and it would always startle him awake, his heart racing as reality crashed down on him again. It was a swirl of emotions: the lack of sleep making him irritable, the situation in general making him angry whilst the loss of Mary and his normal life left him distressed and depressed but he did his best not to show it.

Working in his favour was an influx of cases that enabled him to divert Sherlock's attention away from him and into the conundrum of a suspicious hit and run and a missing tiara, as well as following up with Lestrade about Witherspoon's murder and tracking down the snake that killed him. It had taken a bit of doing, but Sherlock was actually out of the flat for the first time since John's accident and looking over some details at the morgue with Molly, leaving John, thankfully, alone.

"Yoo-hoo," Mrs Hudson called from the stairs, drawing him out of his musings.

"In here, Mrs Hudson!" John's foray into the kitchen had been unspectacular so far, consisting of him opening and closing cabinets and staring morosely at their contents. They had nine types of crackers, apparently, and seventeen tins of soup, but no bowls. What had happened to the bowls, John had no idea, and frankly, he figured he was better off without knowing. The cracker and soup variety at least made sense, sort of. There had been plenty of times John was at the store and couldn't remember what sort of food stuffs were at home and would throw a few extra items into the bag that wouldn't go off quickly in a just in case kind of way. The disappearance of the bowls however? Other than guessing that it was Sherlock-related, he had no idea.

Mrs Hudson entered slowly, barely able to see over the large basket stacked high with fancy food stuffs that she carried in both hands. "Delivery for you boys," she explained as John stepped forward to help her.

"Here," he said, "let me-"

"Absolutely not!" She twisted to avoid his grasp and then continued toward the kitchen table and placed the basket down upon it with a resounding thunk. "You're supposed to be taking it easy! What are you thinking, wandering about the kitchen like you've not a care in the world, offering to help when I've two perfectly good hands? Where is Sherlock, anyway? Did he run off on a case and leave you here to fend for yourself without even having the forethought to fetch the crockery from the hall closet? I know you two have been living on takeaway since the accident, but I would have thought." She trailed off and shook her head. "Actually that does sound exactly like something Sherlock would do. That boy."

"The hall closet." He caught himself in time to turn his question into a statement. Obviously if something as significant as the bowls being moved into the closet had happened then John would have known about it and he just had to hope Mrs Hudson wouldn't read anything into it other than his perpetual frustration at Sherlock's antics.

"Although I would say those experiments he was planning aren't going to happen any time soon, not with you recovering at home the way you are." Mrs Hudson tidied as she talked, which made John smile. As much as his Mrs Hudson, may she rest in peace, had always insisted she was their landlady, not their housekeeper, she couldn't seem to help herself from doing the occasional washing up or hoovering, and it seemed that at least once a week she would bring them tea with fresh homemade biscuits. Apparently this universe's Mrs Hudson suffered from the same need. "You should ask him to bring everything back out for now, at least until you've returned to work and Sherlock's left to his own devices for hours at a time. He almost never blows things up while you're home."

"Maybe I should try to be home more often," was all John could come up with to reply to that revelation, because, really, what else was there to say?

"Oh, dearie, Sherlock has to learn to be responsible and act like a normal adult sometime, it may as well be now. Just put your foot down when it comes to the particularly explosive or smelly experiments. Besides," she leant forward, as if sharing a secret she wasn't sure she should part with, "as much as having the two of you here keeps me young, there are times I could do without Sherlock's particular method of dealing with boredom." She gave the bullet hole smiley face a poignant look.

Knowing his counterpart in this world had probably already apologised, or at least attempted to, several times for that particular action of Sherlock's, John turned his attention to the basket instead. It was brimming with fresh fruits and wrapped chocolates and little packets of individually packaged biscuits. "Well, this looks lovely," he said. "Thank you for bringing it up. Did you happen to notice if there was a note included? Some sign of who sent it?"

"I know better than to accept packages for you boys without any tracking information. I've the courier information downstairs; I jotted it all down just like Sherlock insists. After that time with the poison I'm not taking any chances."

Poison? John thought to himself. Obviously something had happened differently in this world if Sherlock was worrying over their safety enough to insist on security. He'd been meaning to sit down and plot out the differences between this world and his, but between the headaches and the healing and Sherlock's general hovering he hadn't found an appropriate time. Proper opportunity for research or no, floundering about like he'd been doing wasn't going to work for much longer. He was going to wind up saying or doing something woefully incorrect if he wasn't careful and while Mrs Hudson might brush it off without a second thought, Sherlock would notice and he had no idea what would happen then.

Leaning close, she whispered into his ear, "The other Mr Holmes sent it, I'm afraid. That's why I brought it in here instead of into the living room. Less chance of it disturbing Sherlock than if it were out there." With an exaggerated wink she twisted the basket around so it was mostly hidden by a towering stack of Sherlock's journals.

Ah, so this world's Mycroft was the same meddling type as his Mycroft had always been; John was completely unsurprised to hear that. "Good thinking."

"Now, I'm off. Mrs Turner invited me over for tea. An excuse to show off the newest photos of that grandchild of hers, I suspect, but she does make such lovely scones. Is there anything I can do for you before I go?"

"No, thank you, Mrs Hudson. You've been wonderful, but I'm really all right on my own."

She pursed her lips and gave him a long look. "Well," she said eventually, "if you're sure."

"I am one hundred percent positive. I may be a little worse for wear, but I am fine. You go on and maybe if you give those photos a proper fawning Mrs Turner will share that scone recipe with you."

"As if she'd ever part with that!" She slapped him lightly on the arm as she passed him on the way to the door. "You have your mobile?"

John dug it out of his pocket and waved it a bit. "Right here."

"And it's charged?" With a fond sigh he turned it on to show her. "Good. Now, I'll have mine and I'll just be next door, so if you do need anything, you ring me. Not that you'll need help, of course."

"I will. Now, you'd better head out, you don't want to miss a chance at those scones, do you?"

"You're sure-" she began, but John made a shooing motion with his good hand.

"I'll ring if I need anything. Or," he gestured over his shoulder at the suspiciously large basket, "let someone know by one way or another."

"Oh you boys, whatever am I going to do with the two of you," she murmured as she shut the door behind her. John wasn't sure, but he thought she might have added something uncomplimentary once she was out of earshot, and he couldn't help but smile at the thought. She did put up with a lot from the two of them, after all.

Grabbing an orange out of the basket, he peeled it as he pondered what to do with the basket. Should he go through it for bugs? If he searched the apartment, would he find others? Sherlock (his Sherlock) had gone through stages of not actively minding the prying nature of his brother, to being personally affronted that Mycroft would even consider such a thing, to using the bugs and their recordings to his own advantage. This Sherlock had to be similar, but John had no way of knowing Sherlock's opinion on the matter at the moment.

But... Sherlock's opinion be damned. John wasn't in the mood for the prying right now. And any recordings of his current actions might be used against him in the future. Sherlock could always mine them for evidence that John was acting different or atypically. No, it would be safer all around if any and all Mycroftian special 'touches' were removed. That wouldn't be out of character, would it? He'd never been thrilled with having his every move monitored and his current convalescence could always be used as an excuse for not wanting permanent evidence of his physical failings if Sherlock ever brought it up.

Dismantling the food basket was easy. Nestled comfortably in between two oranges and a chocolate was a camera, but a careful examination of the lining of the basket netted a listening device, and at least one of the biscuit packages was a fake. He left the edibles on the table while storing the questionable items in the basket and continued on with a detailed inspection of the kitchen. Working cabinet by cabinet, shelf by shelf took time, especially with the need for frequent breaks to rest his knee and ease the strain on his ribs, but it was worthwhile. Not only did he discover two more devices, but also numerous items (possibly forgotten experiments or misplaced pieces of borrowed evidence, a few were in such states it was hard to tell) that were well on their way to becoming biohazards and he was able to bin them before anyone's health could be affected.

He also took the detailed perusal of their supplies as an opportunity to write up a proper shopping list for the next time either of them headed to the store. Inundation of soup and crackers aside, they were running low on sugar and that was just not acceptable. They were also sorely lacking in breakfast foods, not counting the fruit and biscuits that Mycroft had sent.

Sherlock still hadn't returned by the time that was done and John was too tired and too sore to continue his search for bugs and other paraphernalia in the rest of the flat so he headed up to his bedroom where he knew, or rather he hoped, he could get some research done unobserved. He'd done a preliminary poke about his room on his first night here and it appeared that the Holmes brothers in this world abided by the same unspoken arrangement they'd had in his: he was willing to accept and expect experiments, observations, kidnappings and coercions as part and parcel of his place in their lives, but his bedroom was sacrosanct and not to be infringed upon except in the direst of emergencies.

It was time. He had to narrow down the differences between his world and this one; he had to learn enough so that he could navigate the minefield of what he knew versus what he was supposed to know. The small bits and bobs he'd previously figured out had helped, as had Sherlock's uncertainty in dealing with feelings. The sense of guilt, compassion and worry all coupling together had aided in John hiding his differences, but it wasn't enough. He needed to know more.

The climb to his room seemed to take longer than usual, the stairs creaking under his weight as if they were mocking his use of the banister. His knee ached and the damned ribs meant he had to be careful how he moved. Logically, he knew it had only been a few days, but healing couldn't happen quickly enough for him. Settling carefully down on the bed, he pulled his laptop to him and opened up the document (which was not only encrypted, but also stored on a server that needed a two-tiered secure password to access) with the notes he'd compiled so far.

Helping him was the fact the majority of the world's historical moments seemed to be the same. The World Wars, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the 7/7 bombings and 9/11 had all happened. Thatcher was the longest running Prime Minister and still the first (and only) woman. Cameron, Obama, Harper, Merkel, Putin and Hollande were all currently in charge of their prospective countries. The EU was a bit of a mess, but there was nothing new there. Medical treatments and breakthroughs matched what he knew, although the anti-vax movement didn't seem to have gained much ground here for whatever reason. Strictly Come Dancing was as inexplicably popular as he remembered, but so was Doctor Who and James Bond so there was that at least.

Researching himself was... interesting. He ignored the small mentions he found of himself as a youngster and studiously avoided those that mentioned his being injured in service. Never having been much for vanity googling before (although he had read the articles Sherlock would shove at him, just for Sherlock's sake, of course) he couldn't say how many of the specifics chosen to be reported on were different, but in general the facts matched what he'd found on his blog that first night in the hospital. Things had happened the same up to a point, but only up to a point.

Not surprisingly, Moriarty was the difference. It always boiled down to him, on this world and in his own. Although, here, they'd been more successful against him. Here, Kitty Riley's article about Richard Brook had been discredited and disproven nearly immediately. Someone had linked the article to reddit and the internet took over; suddenly there were hundreds, if not thousands of detectives scouring the web and looking into the story Moriarty had spun about Richard Brook. Its authenticity was immediately debated as posters questioned why nothing about Moriarty being Brook had come to light during the trial. Suspicions were raised further when no youtube clips of his shows could be found, and then it was revealed his IMDB page had only been recently added and his Wiki page backdated.

All in all, unlike in John's world, Brook was proven to be a completely bogus persona within hours and the media immediately embraced it and began touting Sherlock's prowess over such ill-planned attempted subterfuge. Article after article, report after report, began to question why Scotland Yard, which had held press conferences lauding Sherlock's skill and achievements, had suddenly turned into mindless idiots, chasing their tails and using one obviously manipulated mystery to tear him down.

With evidence and public opinion so strongly in Sherlock's favour, the police had practically fallen over themselves to rescind the arrest warrants for John and Sherlock. With nearly the entirety of Scotland Yard visibly against Moriarty and supporting Sherlock and John, the assassins Moriarty had hired didn't have a chance to succeed. Lestrade was continually surrounded by both superiors and sycophants and, in an attempt to ensure a kill shot when the order came, the gunman hired to target Lestrade was sloppy; his weapon was spotted by a quick eyed officer and after a dramatic take down he was arrested.

Baker Street, meanwhile, had become a hub for Sherlock supporters, snapping pictures and milling about and, in general, making a subtle murder attempt completely impossible. Apparently the man Moriarty had hired to kill Mrs Hudson had decided there was no possibility of pulling off a successful hit and, fearing what failure might mean to his own wellbeing, had turned himself in to the cops.

Piecing together what wasn't said in the news with what was said in his blog it was obvious that Mycroft had taken care of the third shooter, the one who was supposed to kill John, and therefore all of Moriarty's carefully planned leverage was gone and when he killed himself on the roof Sherlock was under no obligation to pretend to follow suit and had no need to jump to his death. Moriarty's network still needed dismantling, but instead of Sherlock working on it by himself in secret, he and John were able to do so out in the open with the power of various governmental powers behind them and aided in the fact that Moriarty's very public outing led to quite the fall from grace within the criminal community.

Which was all well and good, except despite everything Sherlock had done back home Moriarty had not only managed to resurrect himself, but somehow also re-established his criminal contacts and reputation such that he was able to destroy anything and everything that got in between himself and his newest obsession, the Charlottenburg artefact. Had he known what it could do? More importantly, if Moriarty was alive in this world, and it was stupid to assume otherwise, was he heading down the same path?

The sound of a key in the lock and the door downstairs being thrown open drew John out of his musings. Sherlock was back; there was no time for this now, he had to get his head back in the game and be the John Watson that Sherlock knew and was expecting. A few moments' work and his research and notes were properly secured away from prying flatmates and John was exiting his room by the time Sherlock had bounded up the stairs to the flat.

Entering the living room, he found Sherlock had grabbed the basket out of the kitchen and was examining it with an amused grin. "I can't believe he was so blatant about it," Sherlock said with a snort.

"To be fair, he wasn't. Only two were in the basket itself, the rest I found secreted around the kitchen." John waved a hand at the list he'd placed on the table. "Realised we were running low on some of the basics and made notes of what we'd need while I was looking. Killed two birds with one stone."

Sherlock looked up hopefully. "You didn't happen to find that mould culture I was growing in the spare butter dish, did you? I couldn't leave it out and risk it contaminating the experiments I was planning for the fingers Molly procured for me but then Lestrade brought us an interesting case and I never returned to it."

John shrugged. "Binned it all. Sorry," he added, knowing Sherlock would hear the completely unrepentant tone in his voice. Via perusal of his counterpart's blog he knew that the constant back and forth of what was an acceptable and allowable experiment in their flat had gone a similar route here as it had back at home. In other words, Sherlock had no sense of boundaries or impropriety while John had limited patience and a constantly embattled sense of decorum and smell.

"Ah, too bad. Well, no matter, the information collected would have been practically useless by now due to the long period of unrecorded data." Sherlock considered the devices in the basket for a moment. "I suppose I've been giving Mycroft too much leeway, it does give him a swelled head and he certainly doesn't need to have that inordinately large ego stoked by allowing him to monitor us unchecked for any longer." He turned to John and considered him for a moment. "I've been allowing it for Mummy's sake, that's all. You make the tea, I'll collect the surveillance equipment."

"We're almost out of sugar," John commented as way of agreement with Sherlock's order as he headed into the kitchen.

"You can make a trip to the shops later. Or we can order online. Ordering online is a possibility you know," Sherlock raised his voice to the point of being just under a shout in order to be heard over John filling the kettle.

"Yes, I am aware of that," John called back. "It's more expensive though, and it means one of us has to be here to accept the delivery. It's not fair to expect Mrs Hudson to always be available to do that for us. She's our landlady-"

"Not our housekeeper, I know. But," John ignored a clattering sound as Sherlock accidently knocked something over as he stepped from chair to table and stretched to reach for something high on a shelf, "with you only just out of hospital-"

"It's been three days, Sherlock!"

"With you just out of hospital," Sherlock repeated before continuing, "we are staying at the flat for longer periods than are typical for us. It may not be a trend that continues for long, but I think we can arrange to be home at a specific time if the result is making sure we have sugar for our tea, don't you?"

Busying himself with the tea, John made an appropriately dismissive, yet affirmative noise. Sherlock's concern over his health and resulting hovering was almost sweet. Well, it would be if John wasn't having to put so much extra energy into hiding the truth of what had happened from him as a result. "You get the camera from the fan?"

"Yes, of course."

"And the shelf next to the phone?"

"Please, John, like I-"

"And the ones in the lamp, the skull and the mirror?"

Sherlock's huff was frustrated and quick. Aha, he had missed one of those then. Humming happily to himself, John grabbed a few of the biscuits packages Mycroft had sent and shoved them into the crick of his elbow as he carried the two tea mugs out into the other room. "Cheers," he said, offering Sherlock his tea and purposely not commenting on the fact Sherlock was standing on the arm of the sofa, but rather just waiting until he jumped down to hand the mug over.

"Only seventeen," Sherlock said as he stepped down onto the cushions and then to the floor before grabbing the tea and using it to point at the basket of cameras and mics. "He must be slipping."

"Or he thought you'd complain less if he didn't use as many." After considering the biscuit flavours for a moment, John tossed Sherlock the packet without any chocolate. John was the injured party after all. He lowered himself into his chair a bit gingerly - his knee did not approve of the number of times he'd gone up and down the stairs today - and set his mug down on the side table. "I do have to say, your brother does have good taste in biscuits," he said as he tore open the package.

"A fact which surprises no one who knows a thing about him," Sherlock replied drolly, but that didn't stop him from ripping into his own package and eating the biscuits himself.

"So, what's your plan then, with the surveillance equipment? Destroy it, experiment on it, use it yourself, sell it, return it..." running out of ideas, John trailed off and settled for cocking an eyebrow as he drank his tea. He'd added too much sugar, blast it.

Sherlock gave him a look he wasn't sure how to interpret. There was a hint of humour and happiness, but a little concern and confusion as well. Mary would have known what it meant. John wondered sometimes, what it meant that Mary had been so much better at reading Sherlock than he ever was. Sherlock was his best friend, and had been his flatmate and partner for years; all Mary had to do was get a glance or hear a certain tone of voice and she'd know exactly what Sherlock was thinking and what was needed to either corral and contain him before his train of thought took him in a direction it shouldn't or how to nudge him along to get him on the right track. God, Mary, he missed her so much.

"Store it away for now, I think. There's no need for further leverage, Mycroft overstepped and we reacted accordingly."

After pausing to finish chewing and swallowing the remains of the biscuit, John commented, "If there's not enough room in the hall closet you could bring all the plates and bowls and things back into the flat."

"Ah. Yes. I suppose for the time being the crockery can be returned to their typical places. Shame, I had been looking forward to that experiment but you're right, we really haven't the time right now."

Since it was likely he was already supposed to know what experiment had required everything's removal in the first place, he refrained from inquiring about it, which was a pity because he was insanely curious about what it might be. "Let me put this in the sink," John began, holding up his nearly empty mug as he leveraged himself to rise and head into the kitchen, "and then I'll help you-"

"No," Sherlock interrupted, raking a critical eye over John. "You've already exerted yourself far too much today. And not only that, you did not take your second dose of your pain medication- don't try to deny it, it's noticeable in your clenched fist and overly careful step. One would think that a doctor, out of anyone, would be more attentive to their own health, but that does not appear to be true in your case."

John shrugged. He'd never been one for sitting idle. Be he injured, ill, or overtired, it didn't matter; if there was a job to do he wanted to do it. Not only that, but he hated it when he couldn't. He wasn't sure if it was a result of him being a soldier and a doctor or if it were the other way around and because he was like that he had chosen the professions he did. It was who he was, it always had been; he was positive that it was the same for all John Watsons across the board so it was an attribute of his Sherlock should be used to.

"Today's newspaper," Sherlock announced, grabbing it from the side table next to the door and shoving it at John. "You sit and read, I'll do the heavy lifting." Without waiting for a response, Sherlock turned, picked up the basket, and headed out of the room.

John read the paper as slowly as he could to give Sherlock the time he needed to unpack all the plates and bowls and whatnot without having to acknowledge in any way that Sherlock was acting benevolently. It wasn't that Sherlock was truly embarrassed by someone confronting him with the fact that he wasn't a self-centred sociopath, but he would never be comfortable having any of his altruistic tendencies acknowledged. John, meanwhile, actively disliked having people do things for him when he wasn't able to do them for himself. So, for both their sakes, John would try not to bring any attention to it when it happened.

"The Witherspoon murder made the papers," John called out to Sherlock. He held the paper out and snapped it open so he could fold the page around the article he wanted to read. "There's some nice praise for Lestrade here, actually. Apparently he was able to track the snake back to an exotic pet smuggling ring and made numerous arrests, shutting the whole thing down. He mentions your 'invaluable assistance' in that by the way. There's also a picture here of Sally and a camel of all things. I must say, neither looks thrilled to be in each other's presence although she appears to be the least happy. I must admit though, to be fair, I think it might have spat on her."

Amidst the clatter John heard a snort from Sherlock at that. He wasn't surprised that Sherlock found the idea of Sally and a camel enduring one another as humorous as he did. "No arrest for the murder itself though, if the police have a suspect they must be keeping mum. Huh, it says here that Witherspoon-" And then it hit him. How could he have been so stupid? Lestrade had said Witherspoon was a historian. He'd told them Witherspoon had been using that room to work on his memoirs. Only hours before Lestrade had come to them with the case, John had had his revelation about Moriarty and the artefact and all the incidents at places where it might have been and places that could have information relating to it. Why hadn't he put that all together?

"I am an idiot."

He didn't even realise he'd said it aloud until Sherlock walked over, collapsing the last of the boxes and throwing them in the corner as he did so, and commented, "Well, compared to me, yes, but nearly everyone outside of Mycroft is."

"And Moriarty." John didn't look up. He wouldn't be able to say what needed to be said if he had to see Sherlock's reaction. Hearing it would be bad enough.

"I would argue that; he may have been clever, but he was never anywhere near as smart as me. But that's neither here nor there. John," and there was that tone John had been dreading. Sherlock's careful, cloying concern. That overly worried, talking to a small child or wounded animal tone. "Moriarty is dead, John. He's gone and he is never coming back."

John couldn't help it, he laughed. "Yeah, so you've said." So multiple Sherlocks had said now. "But what if he's not? It's how Moriarty works, you know, always turning up like a bad penny. Just when you think you've seen the last of him, there he is. And when I think about how complicated this murder was? My brain immediately goes to Moriarty."

"John." John continued to keep the paper up so he couldn't see Sherlock's reaction, but he heard and sensed the motion as Sherlock sat down heavily in his chair across from John. Slow, precise movements. No flopping into the chair, or throwing himself onto it or making any of his typical overly dramatic manoeuvres. There was no lightness in his actions whatsoever.

"And, okay, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this," he tapped the article he was reading from, "isn't him. Maybe it's some part of his network that was missed when it was taken down, but I know the signs. I know Moriarty, and this murder? I've no proof, nothing concrete, but my gut says it's him. It's clever and complicated enough for the police to be out of their depth and intricate enough to require the expertise of both of us to solve it. That has all the hallmarks of how he works. Surely even you can admit that."

"It was an exceptionally clever murder, I'll give you that. But, Moriarty, John? He is dead. I watched him blow his own brains out, right in front of me. And we took down his criminal network together, completely dismantled it. You know this."

"Yeah, well these days I'm beginning to question things we'd previous thought to be the solid, set in stone truth." He risked looking up then, unsurprised to find Sherlock staring at him in a way John couldn't hope to interpret. There was the dissecting bit to it, John was used to that as Sherlock always had a way of peeling things apart, layer by layer, to find the kernel of truth within. But there was something else as well, assessing and careful, concerned and confused. John briefly wondered if he'd given himself away, but he decided it didn't matter. There was nothing to be done about it if that was the case and keeping his secret at the cost of Moriarty running free was just too high a price to pay.

"Well," Sherlock said with a wave of his hand, "present your case to me." Then he hopped up, feet planted on the cushion, arms on either side of his knees, and leaned forward so his chin rested against his steepled hands.

Slowly and deliberately, John folded the newspaper and put it to the side, using that time to organise his thoughts. "There's no pink phone to highlight the case or force your attention to it, but think about it. There'd have been plenty of ways to kill Witherspoon that wouldn't have drawn more than a cursory look from the police, if it attracted their attention at all: mugging, robbery, car accident and so on. But not only did the killer choose a method that was guaranteed to bring the death to the attention of the police they did it in a manner that would absolutely result in an investigation and by the nature of its complexity they ensured the NSY would assign one of their most valued and successful inspectors to it."

"The well decorated Gabriel Lestrade," Sherlock murmured. His eyes had that faraway look they got when he was sorting through data; he was obviously seeing some of the value in what John was proposing.

"Good old Gregory Lestrade." Sherlock's mixing up Lestrade's Christian name had long been given up as a lost cause, at least for his Sherlock. John assumed it was the same here. "And what's the first thing Lestrade does when he's faced with a truly complex case?"

"Unlike most of the detective inspectors at Scotland Yard he actually knows when he'll be out of his depth and he-" Sherlock had been speaking in a rush but broke off and raised an eyebrow and nodded, conceding the point.

"He goes to you." John shifted in his chair, leaning forward to add further emphasis. "This murder was done in a way that was guaranteed not only to be presented to you for your input, but also to pique your interest as well. A mystery involving a locked room and suspicious death? That sort of thing was tailor-made for you."

Sherlock tapped his finger against his mouth a few times before shaking it at John. "No."

"No? What do you mean, no? You seriously can sit there and tell me that this isn't the type of case that practically holds up a neon sign declaring 'Solve me, Sherlock Holmes! You're the only one smart enough to do it!'?" John huffed, frustrated and annoyed at Sherlock's dismissal.

"Oh, it did that, but it wasn't for me," he pointed to himself, "just me. This was a case for the both of us. If I alone had been brought in to investigate the murder I would have given the puncture marks a detailed examination and determined that the cause of death was the result of a snake bite, but not instantaneously as you did, and narrowing down the species would have taken some time. This murder was not designed just for me. It was planned with both of us in mind."

"Both of us." John hadn't actually considered that. Although, it made sense. In any world Moriarty would know that John Watson and Sherlock Holmes were a packaged deal.

"As evidenced by the careful consideration of the snake used for the murder. Yes, the saw-scaled viper is a particularly deadly species, no doubt one of the reasons its use was considered, but there are numerous venomous snakes. So, why use this one? Its origin. This one was specifically chosen because it is indigenous to the Afghani region and therefore would be familiar to a doctor who had served there. It would be known to you." Sherlock jumped to his feet and began pacing around the room, his strides long and angry.

"So you agree, the Witherspoon murder has all the signs of being planned by Moriarty or his network then?" Sherlock had to agree; John needed him to. If they started looking into Moriarty now, before he was able to become too entrenched within his criminal organisation, maybe they'd be able to prevent some, if not all, of the chaos and destruction that had decimated the world John had come from.

Sherlock didn't reply immediately, too intent on pacing with his hands flying about in the way they did when he was working through a problem in his mind palace. Watching Sherlock deduce like that was comforting, familiar. John could only hope that he'd planted enough facts and supposition to lead Sherlock down the right path.

Spinning around by the window, Sherlock suddenly spoke out, asking in an almost confrontational manner, "Why Moriarty?"

"Why what? Why do I think Moriarty planned this murder in a way that was guaranteed to grab your attention? I thought I explained that. It was too clever, too complex-"

"No, I see why you proposed that; your logic there was flawless and I have to agree with your conclusion. No, what I want to know is why you jumped from any old murderer trying to pit him or herself against us to said murderer being Moriarty." He leant against the window, his arms crossed in front of him, obviously unwilling to accept anything other than a proper explanation for John's logical, or illogical, leap.

"Ah, right. Well, I don't particularly like sitting idle..."

"Really? I hadn't noticed." Sherlock's tone was dry. Someone who hadn't had much exposure to the complicated and ironic depths he was capable of might think it sardonic but John knew it to be teasing and well meaning, or Sherlock's version of it anyway.

"Shut it, you," John shot back, without any heat. "I've been keeping myself occupied by rereading some of our case notes and it hit me that you yourself had talked about how layered and complex a few of them had been. I mean, the bit with the matchbox?" He paused, waiting for Sherlock to fill in the (hopefully) obvious deduction, that the ridiculously complicated nature of that case had to have been the result of a mind like Moriarty's.

Sherlock grinned contently and tilted his head, eyes sparkling in remembrance. "That was an exceptionally intricate and convoluted case. The twists and turns and resulting logical leaps were beautiful, absolutely beautiful. So unlike the dreck I'd been enduring with the typical-" he cut himself off upon following the logical path John had set him on. "Oh."

"Yeah, 'Oh' indeed."

"I assume that was not the only incident you found or reconsidered."

"No, not by a long shot."

Sherlock pushed himself off the window and began pacing again. "Tell me everything you've noted, everything you think we missed."

John tried to hide his sigh of relief. The first step, getting Sherlock to see that Moriarty, or at least his organisation, was still a threat was looking possible. He'd work on the second step, introducing what he knew about the artefact, later. There was no need to get ahead of himself here. Stopping Moriarty from regaining his place of power was too important. If they could do that they'd prevent so many deaths, so much needless destruction.

One thing at a time.

Show Sherlock that he needed to consider Moriarty a viable danger to them and the world at large, get him to believe that.

He could do this. He would do this. He had to.

Chapter Text

Sherlock had been a fool. A complete and utter idiot. How could he not have seen this? John had carefully presented his case - bullet point by bullet point - leaving Sherlock practically gaping in his wake. John hadn't managed to piece together every thread or find every incident that bore the signs of Moriarty's handiwork - Sherlock could see many of them now that he was searching for them- but the data John had pulled together was damning nonetheless. It irked Sherlock. He was the intellectual; if either of the two of them had been able to suss out a master villain working behind the scenes it should have been him, not John.

They spent the next several hours papering the wall with articles and notes. Any and all data was considered: brilliant murders perpetrated by banal murderers, intricate robberies, unsolved mysteries and so on and so forth. The picture that was coming together was damning. There was a larger hand at play here, a puppet master working behind the scenes, and Sherlock simply couldn't see the greater picture. He didn't have a clue what the end game was, what the puppet master was hoping to achieve.

Focus on the facts. Follow their implications to their logical conclusions. Concentrate.

Sherlock jumped onto the coffee table for a better look as he worked his way through the various data points that made up their research so far:

Molly's boyfriend, Jim. IT professional. Not only had his resume been forged deftly, but the skills he had claimed to possess were actually demonstrated during his tenure of employment.

The criminal mastermind behind the five pips. The actions he had taken as a consulting criminal included arranging murder, forgery, disappearances and resettlement. He had displayed technical skills and knowledge of explosives and electronics.

International leanings, terrorist ties evident. Terrorist in the precise sense of the word, allying with groups working against the government, not necessarily ones advocating or perpetrating acts of fear, violence or mayhem, although Moriarty had done those as well.

Master manipulator. Obvious. So many examples, too many data points to consider there.

Dead.

Yes, that was the crux of the problem. Moriarty was dead, there were no two ways about that. One simply did not survive putting a gun in the mouth and pulling the trigger. Not when there was blood spray and brain matter and a body that had lain under observation, and thus sans medical attention, for seventeen minutes? Not when an autopsy had been performed on said body the next day. There was no conceivable way that the James Moriarty that Sherlock had confronted on the rooftop of St. Bartholomew was alive and perpetrating the crimes Sherlock and John had catalogued today.

Despite the fact it couldn't be Moriarty, the crimes showed all the signs of being planned by him. The intricacies. The many details. The planning involved. The ties among disparate criminal elements. The level of-

A loud crash emanating from the kitchen drew Sherlock out of his musings. John! Sherlock jumped off the table and rushed to investigate what had happened. How long had he been lost in his deductions? Damn it, how could he have forgotten about John, Lestrade was going to lecture him if John had-

Oh.

John was uninjured, thankfully. With a critical eye Sherlock noted the tray of foodstuffs on the kitchen table with its items askew: sandwiches on their plates but off centre, bag of crisps tipped over and spilled out, tea sloshed over the sides of the mugs creating damp rings. The conclusion was simple, John had prepared food and tea for the two of them and then had foolishly attempted to carry it into the sitting room. Luckily, he'd put the tray together on the counter and only gotten as far as turning and taking a step before one or more of his injuries had flared, causing him to begin to drop it. It had only been quick work on John's part, and his ability to continue to work through pain, that had enabled him to get the tray to the table instead of it crashing to the floor.

His gaze moved from the tray to examining John. Uninjured knee locked, taking the weight off the other. Slight hunch of shoulders, back set firm, breathing shallow. All techniques to relieve pressure on the ribs as they healed. Right hand flat against the thigh. New bandage, changed within the last hour. When had that happened? How long had Sherlock been lost in his deductions? Cheeks lightly flushed. Signs of embarrassment. Fully expected as John disliked bringing attention to physical failings. Lips pursed and a shade too pale. An obvious attempt to hide pain.

Most likely yet another missed dose of medication; according to the discharge papers he should have taken one when he changed the bandage, had he forgotten? Unlikely. John was too detail-oriented to have forgotten, therefore missing the dose was purposeful. Had he taken any of them without Sherlock's insistence? A count of the remaining pills would have to be done in order to find out. And Sherlock was also going to have to set an alarm to remind himself to bully John into taking his pain pills to prevent such a thing from occurring at a later date. John had almost died because Sherlock had been inattentive at the wrong moment. Nothing like that must be allowed to happen again.

"Sorry," John said, breaking the silence that had sat heavily between them. "Thought we could do with some food, but." He sighed and gestured to the disarray on the tray with a sharp flick of his left hand.

"You are still healing," he offered, attempting to not dismiss John's frustration or weakness, but to also not make more of an issue out of it than necessary. He wasn't sure he succeeded.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. I wasn't thinking, I just wanted some damned tea." John pulled one of the kitchen chairs out with a screeching, abrupt motion and lowered himself down into it. "Didn't mean to interrupt your deductions." He picked up one of the teas and motioned for Sherlock to help himself to the other.

"You didn't." Sherlock collapsed into the other chair, rested his elbows on the table and, with a frustrated huff, scraped his fingers along his scalp for a moment before shaking out his curls. "Bah! It's impossible! Moriarty is dead. There is not even the remotest chance he survived shooting himself on the rooftop that day at Bart's. He. Is. Dead. Yet, we have evidence of crimes he alone is capable of perpetrating, or at least match his modus operandi so exactly it is hard to believe they are being perpetrated by another. It is," he had to pause for a moment to think of a word that might properly encompass the swirling chaos of the matter but he decided he was too befuddled by the entire thing and settled for, "perplexing."

John looked at him for a moment before there was the briefest of twitch of the right side of his mouth. The typical response to John attempting to withhold a smile. "I'd have gone with damned annoying myself."

Sherlock tilted his head and nodded. John's choice of words was a vast improvement over his own in this case. "And it does leave open the question of what greater agenda this master criminal, be it Moriarty or someone else, is attempting to achieve."

"So maybe that's the key then," John said, staring down into his mug as if he were addressing the remains of his tea and not Sherlock. "Instead of focusing on the who, maybe we should be trying to come up with the why."

"To do that would require we know more about the crimes themselves. That is not entirely a terrible idea."

"Gee, thanks." The reply was snide and slightly snarky, in other words perfectly typical for John.

"One moment." Sherlock pulled out his mobile and flicked through the contacts before finding the correct one. While he listened to it ring he continued, "Looking at crime scene photos is not the same as-"

Lestrade answered his mobile with a gruff, "What now, Sherlock?" in lieu of a greeting.

"Manners, Lestrade," Sherlock chided, simply because he could. "Upon reflection, I'd like to take you up on your offer to examine the Witherspoon crime scene-"

"We'd," John interrupted, speaking loudly enough that Lestrade was sure to hear. "We'd like to take a look at the crime scene."

"John," Sherlock tilted the mobile away from his ear and started to protest, but one look at the manner in which John raised both his finger and eyebrows in unison and he knew it would be for naught. John coming with him was not ideal, but it should not be too taxing and perhaps Sherlock could use the idea of being outside of the flat as leverage to force him to take his prescribed pain medication. "John and I," he corrected as he turned his attention back to Lestrade, "need to take a better look at the crime scene than the photos presented."

"We know how they did it, thanks to you two. The snake and all the rest of the exotics have been collected and are being cared for at the proper facilities until we can figure out what to do with them, I really don't see what else there is for you to do with the case." Lestrade's words were muffled, a result of speaking into a mobile that had been tucked between the shoulder and ear when the hands were occupied. Lestrade was trying to finish paperwork while eating a late meal, most likely, Sherlock deduced from the background noises he couldn't help but overhear.

"Do they have a motive yet?" John leant forward to be closer to Sherlock's mobile. "Because I don't think it's likely the viper snuck off from those animals traffickers all on its own and just decided a small, windowless room was the perfect place for a nap."

"I am aware of that, thank you," Lestrade grumbled, having heard John's comment. Aha, obviously they were no closer to tracking down who had wished to see Witherspoon dead than the papers had alluded earlier.

"Well?" Sherlock didn't bother to state their case any further. Lestrade's lack of protest had already made it clear that the police were lacking both a motive and suspect.

After a moment's pause, Lestrade sighed and asked softly enough so his voice wouldn't carry enough for John to overhear, "Is he really up for this, Sherlock?"

"I believe so." Sherlock gave John a critical look, not bothering to hide the fact that he and Lestrade were discussing John's health. "Despite the stubborn insistence that he not follow the directions provided on his discharge papers, he is recovering nicely. Besides, this shouldn't be overly strenuous. The outing will involve nothing more than a simple cab ride there and back and an hour or two spent examining the crime scene. John could do that in his sleep."

"I think I have done it in my sleep," John muttered. Sherlock mock glared at him for that and received an actual smile in response.

Lestrade sighed then, long and loud causing Sherlock to grin. Sherlock had become rather adept at interpreting Lestrade's various forms of nonverbal communication over the years and that sigh was one of frustrated acquiescence. It was a sign that Lestrade was going to agree in three, two, one...

"Fine. I'll make the call to get you two official admittance. I trust you'll respect the integrity of my crime scene?"

Sherlock knew the question was rhetorical, but he answered anyway. "We shall do our utmost to leave it in the condition we found it in."

"Well, I guess that'll have to do. All right, let me know if you find anything we missed."

"That's practically a guarantee; Anderson was on forensics after all, but if we come to any conclusions regarding who targeted Witherspoon or why they did so, we will notify you immediately."

In lieu of responding to the dig at his department, Lestrade simply hung up.

Sherlock looked down at his mobile for a moment. "And he claims I have terrible telephone etiquette, ah well."

"So we're on?" John asked as he watched Sherlock pocket the mobile.

"As soon as you take your missing dose of medication."

"What is it with you and my pills?" John's tone was clipped, his jaw clenched. There was no love lost between John and those medications, and as unfortunate those feelings were, Sherlock was too well aware of infections and the need for adhering to medical advice; John himself had lectured him frequently on that topic.

Sherlock was going to have to walk the thin line between forcing John to follow at least some part of the needed medical treatment and not pushing him too far, which might result in John stubbornly disregarding any and all aspects of it. He decided to settle on practicality. "A proper examination of the crime scene will involve a lot of bending and squatting and reaching, movements that will put pressure on your knee and ribs. It would only be sensible to anticipate that such movements may be trying to your still-healing body. Taking actions to preventively alleviate said pain merely makes sense."

John's eyes narrowed, as if he was working his way through Sherlock's logic, but apparently he was unable to find fault with the argument because he spat out an ungracious, "Fine," before getting up and heading towards the bottles that were on the counter next to the sink.

"The full dosage is two from the bottle on the left and one from the one on the right," Sherlock commented, pitching his voice low so that he was merely stating facts as opposed to possibly accusing John of trying to skimp on what he took.

"I know, I know," John grumbled. Sherlock did note however that both bottles were grabbed and it did appear John removed the three pills that he was supposed to.

Bounding out of his chair, Sherlock went and grabbed their coats. Returning in time to see John swallow down the pills with the dregs of the tea, he realised that they'd never wound up eating dinner. "Just leave it," he said as John poked halfheartedly at one of the soggy sandwiches. "We'll stop for something on the way and then clean this up when we return if Mrs Hudson hasn't taken care of it for us."

"She's supposed to be our landlady-"

"Not our housekeeper, I know. But she seems to enjoy having someone to fuss over and if she wishes to do our washing up I, for one, am not going to stop her." Sherlock shoved John's coat at him and then headed to the door. "Come on, time to go."

They arrived at the Witherspoon murder site forty-five minutes later, delayed by both the stop for the purchase of comestibles and the time taken to eat them. Tedious, but necessary unfortunately, since John was in need of nutrients and would not allow Sherlock to turn down his own meal. Still, their delay had allowed Lestrade time to arrange for their access and all that was required was a show of their identification to the rather bored pair of uniforms on duty (the first lived at home with his mother and her three dogs, spent all of his spare time playing video games and suffered from hypertension and was likely to die from it within the decade due to his appalling diet, the second had recently transferred in from a small village police force. She had drive and was determined to move up the ranks. If Sally Donovan wasn't careful this one might give her a run for her money) and they were allowed to enter.

It was a well-kept, unassuming two storey house that blended in perfectly with those around it. Sherlock observed that the lock on the front door showed no signs of tampering with no scraping around the keyhole evident and no unusual wearing of the tumblers. John waited outside until Sherlock finished his perusal of the lock before coming in and saying, "No one came in through the windows either, well, the ones on the front of the house at least."

Pursing his lips, he turned to face John. "How did you deduce that?" he asked. John hadn't appeared to pay any special attention to the windows. Sherlock had apparently underestimated John. Interesting.

"The ground underneath them was undisturbed, if someone'd come through them they'd have left footprints. There's also the fact the glass on all the windows is clean. Not a fingerprint or smudge to be seen, and an equal sparkle on all them so the killer didn't just wipe up to hide their tracks. Witherspoon's maid is good, I'll give her that, the place is spotless, but I doubt she cleaned the windows after she found her employer dead so she didn't accidently scrub away any evidence," John said as he wandered about the front room, his hands shoved into his pockets so as not to accidentally disturb any evidence.

"Excellent deductive reasoning there, John." Giving credit where credit was due, Sherlock had to admit that John's findings were sound. Whoever had planted the snake had not gained entrance from the front of the house.

The house itself was not overly large and its dark woodwork and furniture gave it a foreboding feeling. On the ground floor was a small front room that had been mostly likely for show, its walls lined with old books that had not been read for numerous years, given their stiffness and the way their bindings were dried out to the point of cracking. The dining room was spartan, containing no more than its ornate table and set of chairs. Neither of the kitchen windows was large enough for someone to have climbed through and the door was locked via a small chain. Lestrade may not be a perfect investigator, but since even he would have noticed the chain and asked if it had been locked when the maid arrived in the morning, that could not be how the murderer had gained access either.

"Our murderer did not achieve entry via the rear of the house," Sherlock murmured. Interesting. Therefore they had gained access either through some other sort of surreptitious means, perhaps posing as a repairman or some such chicanery or they had been allowed access by someone in the house, although if it were by an accomplice or via an innocent invitation, Sherlock could not be certain.

Witherspoon's study lay between the front room and the stairs to the first floor. The door had been removed to allow easier access to the room, but splinters and woodchips from when they'd had to break it down still littered the floor and the remains of the deadbolt jutted out from the doorframe. The space in the corner that the terrarium must have occupied sat empty, but other than that practically every surface was covered with books and papers.

"I can't imagine getting any work done in an environment like this," John commented as he tilted his head and leant over to look at some of the papers strewn over the floor. "There's no organisation; there's notes on his days in primary school jumbled about with his research on Friedrich I."

"Which Friedrich I?" Precision was important, after all.

"King of Prussia, late sixteen, early seventeen hundreds." A large portion of the notes on the desk seemed to relate to Prussia and its alliance with Russia against Sweden, which therefore matched with the papers John was perusing.

John hrmmed to himself as he continued to look at the papers. "I know Lestrade mentioned Witherspoon was an historian, but did he ever tell what Witherspoon's specialty was?"

Lestrade hadn't, but Sherlock's own research had provided the answer. "Apparently, he considered himself one of the foremost experts on Petrine Baroque, although many of his contemporaries disagreed."

"Petrine Baroque?"

The research to discover that had been tedious. At least by sharing it the information would be put to some use. "A type of architecture favoured in the construction of St Petersburg and primarily associated with Domenico Trezzini, Andreas Schlüter, and Mikhail Zemtsov."

"Oh, that explains it then." John's tone was unusually stilted, his manner stiff and oddly careful in a way Sherlock couldn't interpret.

Sherlock dug through his mind palace for information on Petrine Baroque, looking for a link with it and either Prussia or Sweden, but unsurprisingly he found very little that might be relevant. Various forms of architecture were not topics he had ever felt the need to learn about or commit much space to. "How so?"

"Andreas Schlüter."

"Yes, he was one of its chief practitioners," Sherlock conceded, unable to follow John's logic leap, but unwilling to admit as much.

Sherlock watched as John tensed; his left hand fisting while his right rubbed against his thigh. A quick dart of his tongue across his lips. Not making eye contact. John was readying to lie to him. Why? "I. Yeah, but he." John broke off and cleared his throat before quickly shaking his head, sign of either a change of heart or an attack of conscience, Sherlock didn't know which, but he was certain that John had decided to tell him the truth instead.

"John?" he asked. He pitched his voice carefully, unwilling to push or pry. He was unable to read John at the moment, which left him uncomfortably off kilter. He needed more information and he wouldn't obtain any if John were to shut down and stop talking.

"I think I know why Witherspoon was killed." John took a step back, standing stiffly, his hands clasped behind his back. "Why Moriarty targeted him."

That was not what Sherlock had expected to hear, not in the least. How could John have deduced such a thing when he had not? Yes, John had a decent ability for intuitive reasoning, but to have come to such a conclusion about the case when Sherlock had not? While not inconceivable, it was unsettling and unusual. But things had not been the norm since John had been released from the hospital, had they? "And why was that?" he asked eventually after John was no more forthcoming in his explanation.

"I've some notes at home. Maybe we could?" John made a vague motion towards the door to suggest them taking their leave. "If you're done here, that is. Otherwise it can wait."

"No, no, if you've solved the case there is no reason to delay sharing your findings. I think I've learned all I need to know from this crime scene." He'd concluded that whoever had planted the snake had done so with the help (either knowing or unknowingly) of someone in the house. There was little else that he was likely to discover here. "Back to Baker Street then?"

"Yeah." John's smile was tight, nervous. He was worried about presenting his findings perhaps? "Let's go home."

Chapter Text

John used the time during the cab ride home to organise his thoughts. He'd known ever since that night in hospital that he'd have to tell Sherlock about the artefact and he'd been both steeling himself and preparing what to say ever since he'd realised the number of incidents at museums, libraries and various collections around the world that seemed to tie to it. Once he'd read in the paper that Witherspoon had only recently returned to the country from a research trip in Königsberg, he'd realised how Witherspoon's murder connected to the artefact and knew it was only a matter of time before this discussion was going to have to happen, but that didn't make him dread it any less.

Sherlock kept shooting him looks. It was obvious that John’s behaviour at the crime scene had unsettled Sherlock. Maybe he shouldn't have said anything about the windows? Had he showed too fine an eye for detail by mentioning his observations about them? Should he have let Sherlock poke about the office for a bit longer before admitting to knowledge that might help the case? Knowledge that he shouldn't, normally wouldn't, have had?

Well, too late to worry about that now. Getting Sherlock involved in the mystery surrounding the artefact had always been part of the plan. There was no way John would ever be able to sit idly by and let Moriarty get his hands on it. No matter what world he was in. But it wasn't like he had to begin his explanation on why Witherspoon was targeted with his findings about the mystical (or was it magical?) aspects of the artefact. Convincing Sherlock that it existed and that Moriarty seemed obsessed with it would be enough. He hoped.

The trip was silent, which wasn't unusual, but the silence was also a bit tense, which was. Sherlock got out first and paid the cabbie while John unlocked the front door, leaving it open behind him as he slowly made his way the stairs. He had just reached the landing when Sherlock bounded past him. "Are the notes on your laptop?" he asked, stopping two steps above John and looking down at him.

"What. Yeah. It's in my-" room was left unsaid as Sherlock headed up to fetch it himself.

John headed into the kitchen. Sighing, he shook his head when he noticed the tray of foodstuffs they'd left behind earlier had been picked up and cleaned. The bag of crisps was now tied shut and sitting on the table next to the items Mycroft had sent over, but the tray, mugs, and dishes had all been washed and put away. "Mrs Hudson, you are a treasure," he murmured and he went to fix some tea. Except he hadn't done more than fill the kettle and plug it in when Sherlock strode in and elbowed him out of the way.

"Take your laptop," he said as he shoved it at John, giving him a choice between taking it or letting it fall, "and bring up the relevant data. I'll make the tea."

"Sherlock, I can-"

"You can save us both some time by sitting down and gathering together the information you mentioned while I prepare the tea." He didn't push John in the direction of the living room as he spoke, but it was a near thing.

Instead of arguing, John took the laptop and settled down with it in his chair. While Sherlock was occupied with the tea, John took the time to boot up the computer, decrypt and load up the various notes and articles he'd found and then hide the fact that he'd encrypted and secured them in the first place. He doubted the John Watson of this world had any of the hacking skills that he'd obtained in the last year. He was just finishing when he sensed movement and Sherlock came around his chair carrying a cup of tea.

"Not going to have any yourself?"

Sherlock dismissed the question with a wave of his right hand while shoving the tea at John with his left. "Not when I'm thinking."

Taking the proffered cup, John began, "So how do you want to do this? Should I show you the articles or how I made the connections or..."

"You know I absorb data best when it is presented in a logical, organised manner. Gather your information together and state your case." Sherlock hopped onto his chair across from him, placed his elbows on its arms, threaded his fingers together and placed them under his chin as he leant back and closed his eyes. "Proceed."

"Erm, okay." John had to be careful not to make it too obvious he'd been planning this discussion. "So Witherspoon was an expert in Petrine Baroque, right? And he also did a lot of research on Friedrich I. Now, those two are connected, I know it probably seems like they're not, but they are through a man named Andreas Schlüter. Schlüter didn't just work on buildings in Russia; he was the main designer behind the Amber Room. Have you heard of that?" Sherlock neither nodded nor shook his head, too caught up in sorting through the details John was providing. "It was originally constructed for Charlottenburg Palace, Friedrich's home, before being installed at Berlin City Palace after Friedrich's death. The Tsar of Russia at the time, Peter the Great, saw it when visiting Prussia and was so amazed that a few years later it was given to him in order to cement the Prussian-Russian alliance against Sweden."

John took a minute to sip his tea as he decided which bit of information to present next. Continuing with the Amber Room probably made the most sense. "So, they boxed the entire room up and shipped it to Russia where eventually it wound up being installed and expanded upon in St. Petersburg. It stayed for a good hundred and fifty, hundred seventy five, years or so but then World War II broke out and the Nazis invaded. Although the Russians tried to keep it out of their hands, they failed and eventually the Nazis dismantled the room and boxed it all up and sent it on to Königsberg where, a few years later, it disappeared."

Sherlock brought up John's next point, just as he'd hoped he would. "According to his daily planner, Witherspoon made several trips to Königsberg during the last few years. In fact he'd returned from one only a week before he was killed."

"I doubt the timing there is a coincidence."

"I do not believe in coincidences. Now, I'll concede Witherspoon is tied to the greater history of the Amber Room, but you have failed to make a case as to how this pertains to Moriarty." Sherlock was dismissive, practically scoffing at what John had presented so far.

John huffed, a little annoyed by Sherlock's impatience. "I only just started. You have to give me a chance here."

"Sorry, sorry. My apologies," Sherlock said in that tone of his that John knew meant he wasn't sorry but simply placating John in hopes that they could move on without addressing the slight. Sometimes John would call him on it, but this wasn't one of those times. Getting Sherlock to agree with John's idea about Moriarty was more important.

"All right, getting back to the matter at hand, when I was looking for crimes that Moriarty might have committed and gotten away with I noticed some unusual activities at various museums around the world. One of things that caught my attention was a fire in the storage rooms of," John squinted at his notes, "Okay, I don't know how to pronounce this, but it's the National Museum of Iceland. What's important about a little damage to some museum in Iceland you ask? Well, the fire was limited to a specific section of their vaults, the storage rooms that contained a collection of items that had once belonged to Friedrich I, with several of the pieces believed to originate from his collections in Charlottenburg Palace.

Sherlock's eyes popped open. "The original home of the Amber Room."

"Exactly."

"Were they able to ascertain what caused the fire?"

"I had to make do with translation websites, but from what I could figure out it looked like the arson investigators were blaming faulty wiring."

Sherlock titled his head. "Convenient."

"I also came across a report from the Bodleian about some missing works that were presumed to have been misfiled. One of the things they admitted to losing track of was a set of papers on Gottfried Wolfram and they had no idea how long it had been missing. Gottfried Wolfram was the master craftsman who was responsible for the crafting of the Amber Room," John explained at seeing Sherlock's blank look over the name.

"After I read about that, I began to look into incidents at other museums, libraries and the like, that caught my eye. Most of them didn't even make the papers because they didn't involve successful thefts, but there'd be comments about them here and there. I couldn't relate something in every case to the Amber Room, Friedrich I, or the Charlottenburg Palace, not by a long shot, but there was still something about some of them," John trailed off, shaking his head.

"Elaborate if you will."

"It was always petty things, quick to pull off and just enough to draw a little attention from the security people or management. Incidents that appeared to be nothing more than kids pulling pranks by mucking about with fire alarms or causing minor damage by pulling museum pieces off walls. Botched burglaries attempted by inept criminals that never had a chance of succeeding. Graffiti that resulted in no lasting damage. Nothing serious. It was almost as if it were all a big game. Like someone was moving pieces about and patting themselves on the back when no one noticed."

"But you did."

"Well, yeah."

"Why?" It was baldly asked, not a challenge, just a chance for John to explain.

"Because it too many of them had the feel of someone testing the various systems. How easy it is to get into the vaults? What is the guards' response time? How much damage is necessary to trigger an alarm? Would it be possible to replace a museum piece with a forgery without drawing attention to the switch? Would it be easier if security was busy elsewhere?"

"If this is Moriarty," Sherlock began in that tone of voice that John knew meant he was reasoning things out in his head as he spoke. "And I'm conceding that it very well might be. There must be a bigger picture here. While Moriarty thrives in chaos and destruction, he rarely creates it without rhyme or reason. Let me see your laptop." He held out his hand and waited, instead of just ripping it off John's lap. Either the John of this world had actually managed to school Sherlock in what was and was not acceptable behaviour, or he was being courteous due to John's injuries. Whatever the explanation, John was thankful and passed it over.

"You know you do have your own computer," John commented for form's sake as Sherlock offered a half-hearted grunt in thanks and began typing away.

Opting not to sit and watch Sherlock work, John leveraged himself out of his chair, grabbed his half empty mug and brought it into the kitchen to wash out. He thought he'd planted enough clues to let Sherlock find his own way to the mystery surrounding the Charlottenburg artefact. Not that there was a lot of information out there about it, in this world or in his own, just the same handful of contradictory academic articles, but with any luck it'd be enough to pique Sherlock's interest.

He puttered in the kitchen for a bit, tidying and whatnot, snitching a chocolate now and then. Okay, four chocolates. Mycroft may be many things, but cheap was not one of them; the chocolates were delicious. Eventually he poured himself a glass of water and headed back into the living room, grabbing a book of sudoku to work on while he waited.

After making a complete bollocks of the first puzzle, he was about halfway through the second when Sherlock startled him by suddenly shouting, "Yes!" John looked up, but Sherlock was still madly typing and didn't seem to be planning on saying anything else right away so he went back to trying to place the nines. Maybe ten minutes later, just as he'd come to the conclusion he'd done something wrong early on and this puzzle wasn't going to get solved either, Sherlock snapped the laptop shut triumphantly. Thank god, if John had to spend any more time on the stupid thing he'd have thrown it across the room.

"I know what he's after." Sherlock eyes shone and there was that huge 'I am so very clever' grin on his face.

Happily shoving the sudoku book between the cushion and arm of the chair, John turned to Sherlock. "And are you going to share with the class?"

"It's a mirror that's been dubbed the Charlottenburg artefact. Named so because it was found amidst a trove of items dubiously linked to King Friedrich's castle of the same name and it dates to approximately the time the Amber Room was installed there. Whereabouts currently unknown, but it began to make the circuit of various conspiracy theorist websites a few years ago after an assistant researcher, an Arthur Baumhauer, discovered it to have what he claimed were 'mystical properties'." John could hear the air quotes around 'mystical properties' by the way Sherlock said the words. "He never defined said properties or gave any reasoning as to why he believed the artefact was special, but with the help of a rather dubious publisher he released a paper on it before dying under suspicious circumstances in 2010."

Knowing how Sherlock liked an audience when deducing, John asked the obvious question that Sherlock was waiting for in order to continue with his lecture, "What happened to the artefact after his death?"

"It had been on loan to New York's Natural History Museum for study by experts there and was scheduled to be returned to Iceland two days before his death. By all accounts the artefact was packaged up and shipped back in accordance with the terms of said loan, but it was presumed to have disappeared in transit."

"Disappeared?"

"Due to Baumhauer's death, no one in his department at the Þjóðminjasafn Íslands was specifically awaiting its return. It wasn't until months later that staff realised it had never arrived. In the investigation all the proper documentation was provided by those in New York as well as by the shipping company but no one was able to locate the artefact itself." Sherlock paused after saying the name of the museum, a triumphant grin on his face, eliciting a sigh from John. Of course he could pronounce that when John could not. Of course.

"That's... oddly convenient," John said, since he knew Sherlock would be expecting him to say something along those lines. Sherlock's findings roughly matched what he had discovered when he'd gone looking for the artefact in this world and mirrored what they'd both found in their search for it back on his own.

"It rather is." Sherlock jumped to his feet to begin pacing; Sherlock always worked through things better if he was moving about.

"So, it's been off the grid ever since?" If that's all Sherlock had learned John would be very surprised, and disappointed, considering that he had found a few references to-

"No." Aha, so Sherlock had found them as well. "It briefly resurfaced in early 2011, or an object of similar description did, at an auction house in Brussels amongst items belonging to a minor nobleman's estate. It was included in the auction catalogue, labelled as 'a decorative mirror of uncertain provenance', but its lot number never actually came up at the auction itself and when the Þjóðminjasafn Íslands became aware of its existence and went through official channels to lay claim to their wayward property it could not be found."

"A bit suspicious, that."

"Indeed. It has been purported to have surfaced a few times since then, all in equally questionable manners. For example there was a report in an online anthroposophical journal regarding the belief that examining oneself in the artefact's mirror could help a person view spiritual entities preying on their immortal soul. In another case, a dubiously credited occultist claimed that by looking into it he was transported to an alternate plane of existence." Sherlock made a scoffing noise before flicking his hands to dismiss the information. "Utter nonsense, of course. And they posted no information as to how the artefact came to be in their possession and no corroborating evidence to-"

"Anthroposophical?" John asked, interrupting Sherlock before the tirade could reach epic proportions.

"A philosophy involving the spirit world - blah blah blah nonsense."

"Right." John nodded. "So, any word on what's happened to the artefact or where it is now?"

"None." That didn't surprise John. He hadn't been able to locate it in this world either and unfortunately, neither he nor Sherlock had had much to do with it being found on his world; it had more or less fallen into their laps.

From what they had figured out about three months before it all went to hell some UFO nutter had obtained the artefact though some less than legal means that he and Sherlock hadn't been able to trace. In doing so, however, he had attracted Moriarty's attention. After barely surviving two attempts on his life, he arranged to smuggle the artefact to England before publically announcing he'd done so and managed to completely disappear somewhere in America. Moriarty, meanwhile, went spare and started levelling London and demanding that the artefact be found and brought to him. The deadly game of pass the parcel had continued until John finally rendezvoused with the last living member of Mycroft's staff and taken possession of the damn thing a mere fifteen minutes before being run down and sent to this world.

None of which helped him now. Here.

"But Moriarty is after it."

"It does appear that way." Sherlock sounded as frustrated as John felt, which was oddly comforting.

"So what do we do now?"

Stopping pacing, Sherlock turned and regarded John with the most serious look on his face that John had ever seen. "We find Moriarty," he said simply.

"Right." Because that was the next logical step, if not the only step for them to take. "Find Moriarty. And, just how are we supposed to go about doing that?"

"We start on the rooftop that day at Bart's and go from there. He had to have left some trace, some sign of how he survived and where he went next. It's my fault, really." Sherlock grabbed his own laptop, turned it on and set it on the coffee table. "Due to the horrific nature of the events I personally witnessed with my own eyes, I failed to consider that what I saw might not have been the truth. It was a rather large oversight to have made. My apologies."

Swallowing heavily, John managed to say, "It was completely understandable. Your reaction. Assuming what you saw was true and that he was dead, I mean. I'd have probably done the same thing." He had done the same thing. He'd stood and watched his best friend jump to his death, unable to do a thing to stop it, and in two years it had never seriously occurred to him that what he'd seen hadn't actually happened the way he'd thought it had.

Sherlock threw himself onto the sofa and began typing again. "I focused my attention solely on our efforts to dismantle Moriarty's organisation, rather than thinking any further about the man himself. It was horridly short-sighted of me and may have allowed him the time to slip away and rebuild enough of a powerbase to become truly dangerous again."

"You couldn't have known," John began to argue, but when he saw the look on Sherlock's face he knew it was pointless: when Sherlock got like that there was no changing his mind. "I'm to blame as well, you know. Mycroft too, for that matter. Hard to believe that with the way he pokes his nose into everything he missed something as big as Moriarty being alive."

Sherlock perked up at that, giving a short snort of amusement. "He does have an exceptionally long nose," he commented.

"Maybe we should contact him?" John grabbed his laptop from where Sherlock had abandoned it and settled back in his chair, but sitting against the arm instead of the back, so he could see Sherlock better as he booted it up. "I know, I know. I'm the one who suggested earlier today getting him out of our lives by preventing him from spying on us, but this is Moriarty. This is big."

Sherlock made a dismissive gesture with his left hand as he continued to type with his right. "I'm hacking his network right now and not attempting to hide my tracks; I suspect we'll receive a call, if not a visit, from him shortly."

John couldn't help but grin at that tactic. "I guess that's one way make sure he's aware. What do you want me to do?"

Sherlock looked up from his screen briefly and grimaced. "Sit normally, that looks immensely painful considering your ribs." John glared at him in response, but did change his position, since it had been exacerbating their perpetual ache, not that he'd admit as much to Sherlock. "Contact Lestrade and Molly, see if you can ascertain what official channels were followed regarding the removal of Moriarty's body from the rooftop and its subsequent examination. Was the body eventually claimed. And if so by whom."

"Right," John replied as he got to work. He was somewhat surprised that Sherlock hadn't done that originally, as obsessed with Moriarty as he'd always been, but John assumed they had immediately applied every ounce of effort into taking down Moriarty's men and not thought overly much about the man's corpse. "I imagine you don't want me to alert either of them that we suspect Moriarty is alive?"

Sherlock didn't bother to answer, not that John had suspected he would. It was unlikely Moriarty had a spy within New Scotland Yard, but emails were too easily hacked and they needed to keep their ideas about Moriarty's resurrection secret for as long as they could.

Considering it was late in the day, John was surprised when his emails to both Molly and Lestrade were answered fairly quickly. He'd worded his enquiries carefully, explaining that the current case he and Sherlock were working had similar aspects to some of Moriarty's crimes (which was entirely truthful), and that he and Sherlock were looking into the idea they may have overlooked a pocket of his network when taking it down (also true, as the man himself being alive and back committing crimes meant that part of his syndicate still existed) so they were looking into what had happened to the body to see if it led down any avenues of investigation that they had missed. Overall, John was rather proud of how he'd not told a single lie, even if he had hidden the truth a bit.

In his email Lestrade included two photos of the body in situ before removal from the rooftop while Molly had attached several autopsy photos and x-rays to hers. All things considered, neither of them should really have done that, but having the evidence right there to examine was much better than having to make do by reading their notes or waiting for information to arrive via courier, let alone not being allowed access to it at all. And the photographs were telling. John adjusted the settings, blowing the images up to just before that point when the pixilation made examination useless and studied them bit by bit.

"This is Moriarty," he said eventually. "I'm positive of it. And he's dead, he's definitely dead. He didn't do it. He didn't arrange Witherspoon's murder. He didn't do any of it."

"That does not match the hypothesis we had formulated." To John, Sherlock sounded slightly perplexed, like he understood the idea that Moriarty might actually be dead, but wasn't willing to accept it as a fact, which was something John could completely understand. Because not only did this destroy their carefully presumed hypothesis that Moriarty was behind Witherspoon's death as well as all the museum and library incidents, but John had seen Moriarty in his world. Had seen the man walk up and shoot him. A dead man couldn't do that, couldn't do any of that.

"I know, but it doesn't alter what I'm seeing here."

"Explain."

"Okay, it's not like I can be completely unbiased and clinical, not with the history I've got with him, but I have to say, this," John pointed to the screen, "is the man I knew as Moriarty. Every feature matches the pictures I've pulled up. There's no scarring that might indicate he'd undergone plastic surgery to make him look this way. No uneven colouring or matting that would result if makeup had been used to hide features. No signs of contact lenses or hair dye. The skull and soft tissue damage is consistent with the injury and matches the type of the bullet used. This is the man we knew as Moriarty and he killed himself exactly in the manner that you described."

Sherlock finally looked up from whatever it was he was working on. "Then how is Moriarty committing the recent crimes that we have attributed to him?"

"I don't know. Witherspoon, the museums, I was so certain." Tears began to prickle at John's eyes and he had to blink furiously to clear them. He was simply so worn by everything that had happened in the last few days, the last few months, and he just didn't understand how the evidence could say one thing when he knew, when he was one hundred percent positive, that it was not true.

"No." It wasn't yelled, but it was louder and sharper than Sherlock usually spoke to John. "You misinterpreted me. How many times have I told you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"

"Now is not the time for your games, Sherlock!" John shoved the laptop off his lap and onto the side table and leveraged himself to his feet. "The evidence doesn't lie! James Moriarty is dead!"

"Yes, exactly. James Moriarty is dead. He blew his brains out on the rooftop of St. Bart's right in front of me. His twin brother, however..."

John had often heard the phrase 'being punched in the gut' upon hearing surprising news, but hadn't ever really understood it. Not until today. He'd never felt the sensation before today. "A twin."

"Yes."

"Moriarty had a twin."

"Yes."

"A twin brother."

"Yes, I just said as much. You are being unusually dense at the moment." Sherlock glared at John over his laptop.

"Sorry. Just, this is rather significant news to me. I had no idea."

"Neither did I until I put together the appropriate clues seven minutes ago."

John scrubbed his left hand over his face and shut his eyes for a moment as the world seemed to rearrange itself around him. "How did we not know?"

"He kept it secret. Well, they kept it a secret. A very well-kept secret. The boys were not delivered in hospital, so there were no records to be found there. As we discovered earlier, there was very little information about Moriarty's childhood or early life recorded, and considering how carefully he worked to erase all trace of himself as his power grew, especially once he was attempting to build his fake Richard Brook persona, it's no wonder we missed the fact that there was a brother out there."

"But you've figured it out now."

Sherlock smiled his Cheshire Cat smile, the one that said he had all the answers and because John had asked the right question he was willing to share what he'd learned. John loved that smile. "That is because I am ridiculously intelligent and also very good at what I do."

"But how-"

"I discovered contradictory evidence regarding Moriarty's role in the Zanzibar incident. There was evidence he planned it from on site, but the timeline would have clashed with his interference in the G-20 summit and Mycroft reported seeing him there. No man can be in two places at once, even one as clever as Moriarty. Therefore I looked into the possibility he was not one man."

"Okay, so let me see if I can figure this out, if I have this right." John didn't pace as he spoke like Sherlock always did, not with his knee and ribs in the condition they were in currently, but he did walk around the room a bit, from his chair to coffee table and then to the back of his chair, he wrapped his hands around the edge of before leaning on it ever so slightly. "Moriarty as we knew him was always two men. One, probably James since he was the one we knew, was the front man, the face of the myth of the Consulting Criminal."

John hadn't gone crazy, he had seen Moriarty, just not the one he had thought he had, which reminded him: "The other brother, did you find what he's called?"

"Jeremy," Sherlock supplied. He had his eyes closed, fingers rubbing against his chin as he listened to John's attempt to work through the new data. He looked oddly content.

"So this Jeremy, he was, what, the brains? The muscle? The one who coordinated everything?"

"I'd wager it was more complicated than that. Perhaps not an entirely symbiotic relationship, but I would not be surprised if they often worked in tandem with one another. They certainly shared similar life goals."

"Wanting to rule the world?" Still a little shaken by the news, John decided for the need to inject a little lightheartedness into the conversation. "Well, I suppose they're not alone. There's plenty of folks who aspire to that. Just take a look at Mycroft."

"Mycroft only has interest in one little corner of it."

John tilted his head, giving a slight nod, acknowledging Sherlock's point, even if he didn't totally agree with it. Mycroft's 'little corner' wasn't really all that little in his opinion, but he had to admit that it wasn't complete world domination, just any area with British interests. Antarctica and Vatican City and Nauru were probably safe, by nature of being too frozen, too religiously entrenched and too tiny. Other than that.... "So," he said, getting back on track. "Jeremy."

"Yes, the living twin."

"How did you track down what his name was anyway?"

"I deduced it. You see, there was a mathematician by the name of Jeremy Muirchertach who I was able to tie to several of Moriarty's known locales, including London during Moriarty's trial and on through his death. Despite having published several well respected theorems, he was a recluse and preferred to remain out of academia." Sherlock paused for affect, but when John didn't say anything he added, "The meaning of the name Moriarty is believed to be 'descendent of Muirchertach' so if they were trying to obfuscate their relationship, hide Jeremy's existence and therefore shield him from possible retribution, they believed altering his surname would achieve the desired result, except their bravado in insisting on such a similar name made the change easily determined."

"There was nothing about anyone claiming the body though." Sherlock's twin theory had some valid parts to it, but John felt he had to point out what he thought was a flaw.

"Yes, yes, I saw that." Sherlock waved away John's protest with a flick of his hand. "It would have been easy enough to exchange the coffin while it was on its way to the cemetery and bury an empty one or even exhume the body shortly after burial when the ground was still soft and malleable. A man like Muirchertach would certainly have the contacts to arrange such an event, whichever option he chose."

"Can we just call him Moriarty? I just can't wrap my head around a man with a name like Muirchertach being an archnemesis."

Sherlock shrugged. "If you insist."

"I insist," John said, giving Sherlock a half smile to reassure him he'd spoken in jest. "So what now?"

Sherlock opened his mouth to speak, but then stopped himself and looked out the window. Somehow the day had ended without either of them noticing. It was evening now. John, suddenly realizing how dark the room was, began turning on the lights. "Now I shall continue to look for a current location for Jeremy Moriarty while you take your pills and then go to bed."

Not that again. John sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Sherlock," he began to protest, but Sherlock cut him off.

"I will have to spend the next several hours at the computer deeply involved in research, something that you will not be able to assist with. There is no reason for you to remain awake, however there is every reason for you to rest as it is likely we will be confronting this other Moriarty within the next few days and it will be advantageous for you to be at your best, or at least the best you are capable of managing, at that time. And, if I'm not mistaken," Sherlock added, his head cocked as he responded to the sound of a car pulling up to the kerb outside and its door opening, "that will be Mycroft. Unless you wish to explain to him why you chose to take your ire this morning out on his listening devices?"

Dealing with Mycroft, even on good days, was trying. On a day like today, after the week (month) he'd had? Add in Mycroft's innate ability to see through John and the likelihood he'd pick up on some tell that he’d pick up on some inconsistency in John’s behaviour? Discretion being the better part of valour and all that was definitely the order of business. John decided against having to have that conversation any time soon and instead grabbed his laptop, about to flee up to his room.

"Don't forget your medication," Sherlock called after him before heading downstairs to get the door, attempting to get to it before Mycroft could bother Mrs Hudson. "Make sure you take the entire dose!"

Grumbling under his breath, John detoured to kitchen. Sherlock's odd martinetish insistence on John taking his pills was annoying, but it wasn't worth putting up more than a token resistance. If Sherlock was spending his effort monitoring John's health rather than his actions maybe it would keep him distracted enough not to notice differences between him and this world's John. It wasn't a technique that would work in the long run, but John would take what he could get.

All that was required to take in the evenings were the painkillers, so he shook out the two pills and dry swallowed them before slipping upstairs. And if he snagged a package of biscuits on his way? Well, who could blame him for that?

Chapter Text

Sherlock left his brother on the stoop for exactly thirty seconds before opening the door, long enough to prove a point, but not a length of time that would chance Mycroft ringing the bell or knocking louder and therefore disturbing Mrs Hudson or John. He flung open the door and announced, "Moriarty had a twin brother who is attempting to restore their network in hopes of ferreting out a mirror known as the Charlottenburg artefact, most likely due to its dubious mystical claims. Find him." Then he attempted to slam the door in his face, but Mycroft was too quick and got a foot in it.

"Sherlock." Mycroft sounded like his usual petulant and exasperated self, but as he didn't appear to be willing to move his foot, Sherlock sighed and allowed him to enter.

"Did you not hear what I said?"

"I did. My ears are working perfectly well, Sherlock, but I need more data." Mycroft made to head up to the flat, so Sherlock quickly shut the door and tromped up the stairs ahead of him.

"Were you not monitoring the searches I performed whilst in your network? I would have assumed that you, of all people, would be able to follow the logical progression of the facts that I ferreted out. Apparently I was mistaken." Since he threw himself face down on the sofa as he entered the flat Sherlock was unable to see if Mycroft rolled his eyes at the insult, but he rather assumed he did.

"Of course I was made aware of your searches and the information you discovered!" Once through the door, Mycroft carefully shut the door, took two steps inside and then stopped. He did not sit down, nor did he pace, instead choosing to stand there, holding himself stiffly, like a disappointed statue looming in the room.

"How did we miss it?" Sherlock asked, because the fact that the man and myth that they knew as Moriarty was actually not one man, but two was not something that should have taken them unawares.

"When one does not know to even ask the question, they will not discover its answer, Sherlock." The tone was not unkind. Sherlock reasoned that Mycroft was acknowledging his own failings rather than berating Sherlock for his. "What matters is that we are aware of the situation now and can begin to rectify it. I have my people working on the current whereabouts of Jeremy Muirchertach. Despite the steps he has taken to conceal himself I am sure we will have him in custody within the week now that we are aware of his existence."

Sherlock harrumphed. Mycroft always did have an inflated sense of his people's skills. "Possibly. Your underlings are decent enough, but this is Moriarty's brother we are talking about. Certainly he is rather skilled in covering his tracks. Perhaps a better use of time would be to discover the whereabouts of the Charlottenburg artefact, as Muirchertach appears to have an overly unhealthy obsession with it."

"They are aware of all aspects of your inquiries and have expanded their search thusly. Really, Sherlock, what do you take me for? You do not think I am capable-"

"Please," Sherlock interrupted before Mycroft could begin yet another one of his boring lectures, "I know exactly what you and your people are capable of; microphones in the biscuits, Mycroft? Cameras in the chocolates? Really?"

"It was for your own good, Sherlock. And I must say, I thought we'd come to an understanding regarding your surveillance. What made you change your mind about it?"

Opening his eyes, Sherlock threw his feet over the side of the sofa, clattering them onto the floor, and pushed himself up to a sitting position. "As I'm sure you are well aware, John made that decision on his own."

"Yes, John." Mycroft raised an eyebrow, changing his perpetual affronted glare to the Holmesian version of concern. "And how is the invalid?"

"I would dearly love for you to call him that in his hearing, his reaction would be a wonder to behold." Sherlock shook his head, smiling at the thought. "He is improving, despite his inattention to his physical limitations and the fact that he is displaying certain traits that.... Well, that is neither here nor there, we need to focus on the matter at hand. Muirchertach, Moriarty's network and the artefact."

"Why now, Sherlock?"

"Why track down the person who very may well be the most dangerous criminal the world has seen in years? Yes, why indeed might we consider doing such a thing? Considering his propensity for attracting death and destruction, why ever might we consider trying to find him? What an immensely moronic question, even for you, Mycroft."

"No, Sherlock." Ah, there it was, Mycroft's disdainful tone, appearing ninety-seven seconds later than it usually did in their conversations. Either Mycroft had been working on his meditation again or Sherlock was losing his touch. Naturally, he assumed it was the former.

"Then are you inquiring as to why I suggest we look for the artefact now? Because-"

Mycroft's lips thinned. "No, my question addressed the timing of your realisation that Moriarty, or as it wound up being the case, his brother, was alive in the first place. It has been years since his death. Considering the amount of time, effort, and manpower that was put into unravelling and dismantling his network and the fact that no trace of the brother appeared at the time, why did it suddenly occur to you to delve into the possibility of his existence? How did you come to believe it would be anything other than a fruitless endeavour?"

"I fear I must give John the credit for that. He was the one who postulated the idea that the Witherspoon murder fit Moriarty's modus operandi."

"Really? That is an unusually astute observation by the good doctor." Mycroft began examining his fingernails, embracing his 'bored, minor government employee' persona, a role Sherlock had always seen through immediately.

"If you are disparaging the intelligence of John Watson," Sherlock began. He was not entirely sure where the threat was going, only that it had to be started. John might not have the intellect of a Holmes, but he was nowhere near the lamentable level of the masses and-

"Please, Sherlock," Mycroft made a vague, conciliatory gesture. "Far be it from me to question Doctor Watson's mental prowess . I consider him a more than adequate assistant for you in this little consulting detective dalliance you keep yourself busy with."

"It is not a dalliance!" Sherlock argued, for form's sake. It was a perpetual disagreement between the Holmes brothers - Mycroft wished Sherlock to put his skills to use for the so called 'greater good' which actually meant working for Mycroft himself, while Sherlock would rather slam his head against the wall repeatedly than ever consider doing such a thing.

"Whether that is the case or not, John bringing light to the notion of Moriarty’s survival shows a level of mental acuity I have not previously associated with him."

"It has never been wise to underestimate John Watson," Sherlock pointed out, perpetually frustrated by the manner in which Mycroft treated John. "Many have done so to their detriment."

After conceding the truth behind that statement with a tilt of the head, Mycroft walked over and sat down in John's chair, gesturing at the one across from it. "We need to strategise how best to approach Muirchertach once we have ascertained his whereabouts and decide if we should attempt to determine the reasoning behind his obsession with the Charlottenburg artefact and if we should commit resources into locating it."

-----------------------------

Mycroft stayed for an interminable three hours as they dissected the various avenues their investigation might pursue. It was a necessary evil, but tedious to say the least. Once he finally took his leave, Sherlock spent several more hours doing his own research and sending inquiries to contacts around the world.

Considering all the information they had - name, physical description, field of both study and work, and previous locations - Sherlock had no doubt they'd succeed in finding Moriarty fairly quickly even though their prey had a history of being terribly elusive. With Sherlock's intellect and Mycroft's attention both focused on the search, his capture was just a matter of time.

Having worked through the night, Sherlock was weeding through conspiracy theories regarding quantum mechanics and unified field theory in relation to alien bridge technology when he heard John moving about upstairs. It was a full hour before John typically began his morning ablutions and Sherlock could not help but wonder as to why the change. It was possible it was just a result of the residual pain and healing process, however Sherlock was certain that was not the only reason. No, John had been exhibiting signs of nervousness lately. This might be explained as a response to his brush with death, but from the data Sherlock had collected previously, John responded to violence and chaos with physical signs of enjoyment and arousal. Although, perhaps the severity of injury or his surprise regarding the existence of Moriarty's twin affected that? Sherlock couldn't be sure.

There was something unusual about John and his actions of late, that much Sherlock did know. And once they'd taken care of this Moriarty situation he would have more time and mental space to give the issue the proper consideration that it was due. Until then, he would do as Lestrade had suggested and prepare the tea and make sure they both ate enough so that they wouldn't collapse mid-case.

John pushed open the door to the kitchen while still fumbling with the buttons of his shirt. He looked up then and stopped halfway in when he saw Sherlock standing by the sink. "Oh, Sherlock, you're awake already."

"Astute observation, as always, John."

"What have we said about snarky retorts before I've had my morning coffee?" The tone was light and teasing, but there was a level of unexpected weariness behind it. John had, apparently, achieved an insufficient amount of rest to feel rejuvenated.

"The coffee is percolating. I anticipated your need for it once I heard you stumbling about your room."

"I didn't realise I was that loud. Sorry, did I wake you?" John grimaced slightly as he spoke; the combination of tone and expression combining to display a guilty response, which had not been Sherlock's intent when he'd voiced his observation.

"Never went to bed, actually. Too much to do." Seeing that it was the bandage on John's hand that was hindering his dexterity in dressing, Sherlock stepped forward. "Here, let me," he offered, gesturing to the buttons.

"Thanks," John said, with a frustrated sigh. "It's the damned bandage. At least I won't need it much longer, yeah?" When Sherlock reached him, John slipped into 'parade rest', which Sherlock knew was his default stance for when someone was within his personal space, and begrudgingly allowed him access to the buttons.

Finding John's obvious discomfort awkward, Sherlock worked through many things to say to fill it before blurting out, "I should inform you that Mycroft claimed he still has the flat under surveillance."

"Of course he did." John snorted. Giving the shirt a slight tug once Sherlock had finished, he nodded his thanks before moving over to the grab his mug from the counter and wait for the coffeemaker to finish its work. "If that's true, you know he most likely brought it with him and planted it when he thought you weren't paying attention. Did you remove it after he left?"

Sherlock hadn't, as he had assumed Mycroft hadn't been telling the truth about any equipment remaining, but instead had been showing his typical overbearing level of fraternal concern. "I saw no logic behind providing him a reason to delay his departure. Do you wish for me to locate and remove it now?" He traced Mycroft's movements over in his head trying to pinpoint the moment Mycroft could have planted something, while John began gather things for breakfast.

He'd stood by the coffee table, sat in John's chair, touched the-

"Lamp in the corner's his favourite hiding spot," John commented as he dumped some muesli into a bowl. "And it provides a good angle for both the living room and the kitchen."

A quick, surreptitious look proved John to be correct. How did John, no, a better question was when had John become so observant and so knowledgeable about Mycroft's habits? "Not the fan. Interesting, I always assumed it was the fan."

John, milk hovering over his bowl, paused before pouring to look up at Sherlock. "That's his decoy spot. Well, decoy's not really the right word, I suppose. Backup? Spare?" He shrugged. "Same angle, but more noticeable. And, thanks to the vibrations of the fan when it's in use, any footage shot from there's near useless."

Sherlock made a vague 'hrmm' noise as he considered the logic behind John's explanation. He hadn't put much thought behind the placement of Mycroft's surveillance equipment before. Yes, it was intrusive and annoying, and he'd vacillated between periods of ridding his flat of it and allowing it to remain, but its existence was a necessary evil of being part and parcel of having the British government for one's brother and since he understood why it was there, he'd never thought much about where it was placed. Was it John's soldier eyes that made note of such a thing or was his attention to detail a factor of his medical training?

Not only did Sherlock not know, he was unsure how to ascertain which was the correct determining factor, if either actually was. Perhaps it was a skill John had acquired elsewhere? Or one inherent to who he was? Would it be possible to devise an experiment to gather enough data for a proper conclusion? Possibly, although John had always been rather firm in his stance against being a test subject.

And now John was staring at him. Had he missed some form of interaction or cue? No, it was John's fond half-smile, the one John himself described as 'my flatmate is a daft bugger, but I mean that in a good way' smile, assuring Sherlock it was meant as a compliment.

"So, do you wish me to-" Sherlock gestured to bug on the and cleared his throat, "Or shall we just continue with the status quo?"

"Hang that bloody deerstalker hat over it," John replied. "You hate the damn thing and he knows it, so using it'll be two-fold. Mycroft'll know you know the camera's there, but to get visual or unmuffled audio he'll have to admit he bugged us in the first place and since he'll be getting some data he'll have to decide if it'll be worth the hassle."

Sherlock grinned. "Clever. Very clever." Snatching the hat from where it had been languishing on the back of a shelf, he slapped it against his thigh a few times to get some of the lingering dust off and then draped it over the camera with a flourish. "Voilà."

"Perfect." John toasted him with the coffee mug as he sat down to his breakfast. "You eat yet?"

Had he? There had been biscuits at one point and some tea. Chocolates earlier, a way to hasten Mycroft's leaving since he was dieting again, but actual breakfast? John must have been able to ascertain his train of thought because he sighed and pointed to the cabinets.

"Grab a bowl or make some toast or something." When Sherlock opened his mouth to protest John raised a finger. "No arguing, you can eat and you can tell me everything you and Mycroft discovered at the same time. It's called multitasking, give it a try."

Sighing dramatically, Sherlock gave no reply other than to grab one of the oranges Mycroft had sent over, peeling it as he carefully explained everything he'd theorised and the various avenues of investigation he and Mycroft's people were taking. John interrupted here and there to offer his own theories and soon they were bouncing ideas off on another in such a stimulating and engaging way that Sherlock had eaten an entire meal without being remotely aware of it.

"Still," John said, as he rose to bring their dishes to the sink, "This doesn't really get us any closer to finding Moriarty, does it?"

"It gives us a basis for information from which we can extrapolate." Sherlock, however, was as frustrated as John. He hated this stage of an investigation, when all the small puzzles had been brought together and solved, but the largest piece was still unobtainable due to forces outside of one's control. "Which is better than having nothing at all."

"I suppose." Sherlock noted that while by the counter John examined the bottles of pills and took everything but the medication for pain. Considering that John’s movements were still stiff, but his injuries did not seem to be causing anything more than general discomfort, Sherlock let the matter slide.

Very little was accomplished not only during the rest of the day, but for the remainder of the week as well. Although, to be accurate, very little regarding the case was accomplished; Sherlock used the lull in the investigation to finish the experiments necessary to make a proper catalogue and comparison of pencil shavings. Which, despite John's scoffing, Sherlock considered to be important data collection; John was merely incapable of seeing the bigger picture regarding the finer details of investigative work.

John, meanwhile, was spending increasing numbers of hours on his computer, although Sherlock could not be sure what he was doing. Research of some sort was obvious, but the specifics eluded him. As the laptop was rarely left unattended, opportunities for Sherlock to examine the cache and search history were not easy to come by, and the few times he had been able to look at it he had been unable to discover much beyond John's own research into the Charlottenburg artefact as well as numerous inquiries regarding alternate universes. Interestingly, or perhaps disturbingly, there were slight deviations in the cache, history and record that under normal circumstances would alert Sherlock to signs that the user was making attempts to cover their electronic trail. However, this was John, who had never shown the skill nor inclination to do such a thing. So, although Sherlock was certain his discovery was not incorrect, he decided not to delve into that particular mystery yet, but he did make note of it and file it away in his mind palace with the other incongruous observations he had made of John Watson recently.

Much to Sherlock's chagrin, it was one of Mycroft's peons who unearthed the salient detail that enabled them to discover the current location of Jeremy Muirchertach. Apparently work permits filed for a series of improvements to several properties in Shepherds Bush failed to contain the necessary final documents that would enable their approval to be issued, resulting instead in their being delayed while awaiting the missing paperwork. Therefore even though the work was never completed, the permits did not garner attention by lapsing. As a result the buildings lingered in a perpetual state of halted construction and would not have garnered any attracted had someone not been combing through permits for irregularities.

John peered over Sherlock's shoulder as he looked at the data Mycroft had set over. "It is suspicious, I'll give him that, but that doesn't mean it's Moriarty." John's tone was tense, but without a hint of firmness behind it, as if he were throwing the suggestion out despite being utterly unconvinced there might be a modicum of truth behind it.

"A significant number of signs lead to the conclusion that it is, indeed, him." Sherlock gestured to the rest of the information he was examining. "Now, there are five locations. Two are within easy view of one another, one provides a nearly panoramic of the surrounding area and another is located immediately adjacent to the Loftus Road football stadium."

"Wouldn't have thought Moriarty'd be a QPR fan," John quipped.

"It does seem unlikely he would use that one for his primary place of residence. No, too loud, too chaotic and too risky, which still leaves four for us to choose from. Now, due to various mitigating factors, Mycroft is labouring under the assumption that the southernmost locale is the one Moriarty favours." Sherlock scoffed at the inanity of Mycroft's beliefs. Yes, that one was currently boarded up as well as being behind some fencing, but it was lacking entrances and exits that contained proper cover and anyone who was attempting to go unnoticed would find that a major detriment. Equally unlikely were the two locales near the BBC media centre, there were far too many cameras and comings and goings there.

"Did Mycroft say what he was planning? Is he going to have his people raid just that one or all five places at the same time?" John shifted, radiating tension and frustration. "He's not going to expect us to sit by and do nothing, is he? There's no way I'm sitting idly by while-"

"No, I think he knows us too well for that. If he'd wished us to remain on the sidelines he wouldn't have provided us with the information until after he'd acted upon it."

John nodded approvingly. "So how do you want to act on it?"

Sherlock turned away from the screen and looked up at John. "Mycroft's history shows that he labours under the assumption that the gathering of an ever increasing amount data prior to deciding on a course of action is of the utmost importance."

Shifting, John clasped his hands behind his back as he raised his eyebrows slightly. "That's not always the worst tactic to take, but I didn't ask what Mycroft's plans were, I asked about yours."

Accepting the slight rebuke with a nod, Sherlock quickly considered and rejected several different ideas before settling on one. "I believe we should draw him out into the open. As Witherspoon's murder was blatantly designed specifically for us, it is unlikely that Jeremy Moriarty remains content to hide in the shadows. He must have expected that I would therefore discover his existence-"

"You almost didn't," John interrupted with a self-satisfying grin on his face which Sherlock studiously ignored, although he did offer a slight pout and mock glare in response as he knew would be expected of him.

"Yes, well, the point being that it would not be unrealistic to assume he has been waiting for our next move. I propose we message him in a similar way as I did during the case with the pips." There was a slight, almost involuntary, shudder from John at the mention of the case. A touch of lingering PSTD from the bomb vest no doubt, which Sherlock did not wish to exacerbate, so he immediately added, "I do not think a pool would be an appropriate meeting locale in this situation, however. There is a disused car park around the corner from one of his Shepherds Bush properties, close enough for him to feel comfortable but far enough that it is unlikely to have played any part of any of his plans."

"What about Mycroft?"

"What about him? His men can take custody of Moriarty after we've confronted him."

"After?"

"Yes, I've questions I would like answered by him first. Many questions, and he is more likely to provide information if he believes he is in the position to gloat, which would not be the case if he were to be arrested before we could question him."

"About why he chose now to reveal himself or about how he and James worked together or why he's obsessed with the Charlottenburg artefact or...." John trailed off, making an 'and so on and so forth' gesture with his hand.

"Yes. To any and all of the above."

"You do realise it's likely Mycroft will notice if you're off arranging meetings with Moriarty on the sly."

"I am fully aware of that. In fact, I'm relying upon it. It will save me the trouble of arranging transport for Moriarty once we have finished with him."

John tilted his head, considering what Sherlock was proposing. After licking his lips, a sign of deep thought, he nodded briefly, almost to himself. "All right, but we go in together. None of this sneaking off by yourself. Together or not at all."

Sherlock held up his hands in acquiescence, as if conceding to John's demands. In truth, Sherlock had never given serious thought to attempting to meet with Moriarty's twin on his own. James Moriarty had been a significant foe and it was unlikely that Jeremy would prove to be anything less than his brother's equal. And while Sherlock was far cleverer than either of them, he knew (even if he would never admit such a thing to anyone) that he was better still with John at his side. "So, how would you feel about a clandestine rendezvous tonight?"

"I'll have to check my calendar, but I think I might be able to pencil it in," John said with a wry grin.

"Then I recommend you go get your gun out of its hiding place and prepare it for this evening." Sherlock cracked his knuckles dramatically as he turned back to his laptop. "I have a post to make."

Chapter Text

John ran upstairs and got out his gun and kit. The idea of confronting the visage of Moriarty was hard for him to wrap his head around. The man had gone from being dead and out of their lives to being a psychotic nightmare destroying everyone and everything that mattered to John to... well, ending John's entire world and sending him to a new one. Once he'd managed to make Sherlock see that Moriarty, a Moriarty anyway, was alive and well, John had known that the showdown was inevitable. He just hadn't been prepared for it to happen so soon. Or maybe he had?

How would it be, coming face to face with Moriarty? How different would Jeremy be from James? Would he be able to separate what had happened in his world with the events of this world? Would he overreact and play his hand? Although, Sherlock seemed to be dealing with his own Moriarty related baggage, so would he even notice if John did?

Mind spinning, he settled at his desk and began to clean his weapon, using the familiar motions to ground himself and bring his swimming thoughts back into focus. Spread out the cloth. Unlock and unload the gun. Check to make sure the chamber was empty. Remove the recoil spring, then the barrel. Set the pieces down. Scrub the parts with the dry brush. Attach the bore brush to the cleaning rod, apply the solvent, scrub the barrel back and forth four times. Apply a little more solvent and brush twice more. Detach the bore brush and put it away. Wipe everything down. Lubricate. Reassemble. Reload. Check the safety. Place the weapon to the side then put together, reassemble, and store the kit.

Breathe.

Feeling more centred, John grabbed the gun and headed back downstairs.

"The meeting is in just under two hours," Sherlock informed him from his perch on the edge of the sofa as John pushed open the door to the living room.

"That soon?" The news stopped John where he stood and he had to shake his head to clear it of the shock; he'd expected things to move quickly, but not that quickly. "I can't believe you heard back from him already."

"It is likely he had been waiting for us to reach out to him; while he might not have expected us to link him to Witherspoon's murder immediately, its inevitability was all but assumed."

John nodded. "Makes sense. If anything, it probably annoyed him we took so long. But," John entered the room then headed to where his coat hung and tucked the gun into its pocket, "I have to wonder, why now? He's been running around in the free and clear for years, why's he drawing attention to himself all of a sudden?"

"The artefact," Sherlock declared, his tone defiant and certain, all but patting himself on the back for being so clever. "He was obviously stalled in his attempts to locate it and decided to tempt us into doing his work for him."

"So," John began, hoping he kept all but a sense of slight curiosity out of his voice, "Did you find it then?"

Making a noncommittal 'hmm' noise as he pursed his lips, Sherlock waved away John's question. "I need to prepare," he said, his eyes closing as he slipped away into that self contained headspace he went to whenever he was mucking about in his mind palace.

Which meant what? Had Sherlock located the damned thing or not? Lost in thought, John wandered into the kitchen and began to make tea while he debated with himself if he actually had wanted it found or not. If he managed to get his hands on it, then what? Attempt to activate it? But how had he got it to work in the first place? Was it because he'd broken it, or because he was injured and or dying, or a combination of the two? And whichever it was, had it only brought him here because the John Watson of this world had just been killed? Would it be possible to travel back into his original body? And if it was, did he really want to? Things in his world, the previous world he'd been in had been... bad. Sherlock was still alive, he hoped, but practically no one else he cared about was,and everything was in chaos. It was his world, his life, but did he want to return to it when he was just beginning to settle into this one? And was it guaranteed that if he managed to make the artefact work again it would send him there? What if it sent him someplace else? Someplace worse?

Sherlock was here, and Mrs Hudson and Lestrade. Baker Street was still standing. Mycroft was still annoying and overbearing. Everything felt right. And Mary was alive out there, somewhere. Probably. He hadn't had the courage to check yet, but he could, couldn't he? All he had to do was go and find her, then invite her out for a drink or something. Get to know her in this world, see if she was any different than the Mary he had known and fallen in love with in his world. He could do that. He wasn't sure he wanted to, if he should even consider it, but it was an option anyway.

Knowing she was alive might be nice, even if he never chose to act on it. It wouldn't really be fair if he did, would it, knowing everything he did about her despite not having met her here. Favourite drink, food, telly, what sports she liked, what teams she hated, which movies made her cry and which ones made her laugh. Of course, there already were two years of different history between them, so who knew what, if any of those things, had changed.

"John?" Sherlock's tone, whiny but a bit concerned, meant he was repeating himself, that he'd tried to get John to acknowledge him a few times already but failed. Thankfully, he hadn't tried to grab him. There had been a few times that Sherlock had become frustrated by John's lack of immediate response and had switched to attempting to physically draw his attention. Things had never ended well when Sherlock tried that; John always reacted instinctively, the contact interpreted as a threat. They'd broken two coffee tables that way and there was also that incident with the rosebush that they'd both agreed to never mention again.

"Sorry," John said, realizing he'd been standing, staring at his empty tea cup for a while, "just off woolgathering a bit. Is it time to go?"

Sherlock raised an eyebrow at him in response and belatedly John noticed that Sherlock was not only wearing a coat, but was offering John his as well.

"Careful!" John gently took the coat out of Sherlock's hands. "My gun is-"

"Is in the left pocket, I know. Even if I had not seen you place your weapon in it earlier, the weight of it is ample enough to be noticeable."

Right, of course Sherlock was aware of the gun. Considering that the safety was on John didn't really need to worry about it going off unexpectedly, but he believed it was better to be safe than sorry and he put the coat on slowly so as not to jostle the weapon. "Well, let's go then." Since Sherlock was the one who knew where they were going, John gestured for him to take the lead.

Sherlock hailed them a taxi and ordered the cabbie to Shepherds Bush, but other than providing the address he didn't say another word. He wasn't in his mind palace, but rather just running through data in his head; John could tell the difference. It was a common reaction Sherlock had to anticipation; he liked to work out various outcomes and possible results to the different actions and events they might come across. John, meanwhile, reached into himself to find that calm place of alertness and readiness that he always went to before a battle and slipped into it like it were an old comfortable dressing gown.

They pulled up to the kerb in front of a bus stop, which John found a bit strange, but he paid the fare and followed Sherlock as he wove in and out around the various pedestrians. They backtracked a few times, so they would appear to be meandering aimlessly if anyone was watching, but in reality their movements were a test to see if they were being followed.

"Was the blue jacket with the white shirt and dark hair Mycroft's or Moriarty's?" he asked a few minutes after they'd lost the man in question.

"Moriarty's, I assume. Mycroft's were the suits."

John scoffed. "His people's skills in blending into their surroundings is downright appalling," he commented. He'd noticed the two in the suits the moment they'd exited their own taxi, which had conveniently pulled up to the kerb only seconds behind Sherlock and John's own. The timing aside, suits like those were finely tailored and impeccably fitted. Wonderful to look at, but terribly expensive, and they stood out in this kind of working-class crowd.

"He's still tracking us via the CCTV, no doubt."

"He worries," John tried to mimic Mycroft as he spoke and managed to tease a smirk out of Sherlock for his efforts, "constantly."

"You would think that the British government would have more to do than bother," Sherlock broke off, looked quickly about, and then hopped over a construction barrier and pushed open a door. "This is it. Come on, now!" he hissed.

Damning Sherlock's gazelle legs, John had to sort of push off and jump to get himself over the barrier, but he managed it without drawing any undue attention to himself. They shut the door carefully, blocking out the noise from the street and leaving an echoing silence in its wake. They were on the ground floor of an enclosed car park that had been abandoned in the middle of its construction. There was enough ambient light to see the various places that wires hung from the ceiling, exposed but without power, never having had their lights or cameras attached. Old pallets and the occasional barrel lined the walls. Everything was grey with a thick layer of dust. Footprints of heavy boots marked the floor, but the marks were obscured and old.

Sherlock pulled a torch out of his pocket and flicked it on. Its beam cut through the gloom and illuminated the way to a stairwell on the far side of the building. "The meeting is on the second storey," Sherlock explained as he headed towards the stairs, the light sweeping back and forth as they kept a careful eye for anything out of the ordinary that might alert them to dangers they would have to face.

John was surprised by the lack of, well, anything that he could see around them. There were no cameras, no one watching them or planning to interfere in any way. It was just an empty disused car park, Sherlock and him. For a clandestine meeting with criminal mastermind, John would have expected more surveillance of one sort or another. Sherlock strode forward, like he hadn't a care in the world, but John treated the area like a battlefield, looking for snipers, booby traps, explosives, and so.

The stairwell door opened with an ominous creak. "Well, he knows we're here now," John muttered. "Not that it's likely he didn't already."

"No, I believe he was already aware, especially since he agreed for the meeting to occur at this specific time and place."

"So the men he had following us? What were they then? Window dressing?"

Sherlock shrugged. "He does have to keep up appearances among his people, after all."

The stairs were in slightly better condition, a result of the work there having had progressed further before it was abandoned, most likely. They were cleaner and the emergency lighting was active, giving everything a sickly yellow glow. There was a lot less construction debris and dust, but there were some signs that the detritus had been disturbed. John assumed that meant Moriarty had already arrived and was waiting for them.

They continued silently up the stairs, but once they arrived at their destination John turned to Sherlock and stalled him with a hand on his arm. "I know you think he wants something from us and you can just go swanning in there without a care in the world, but this is a Moriarty we're facing here, and I doubt Jeremy is any more stable than James was." He pulled out his gun. "So I will be the one to go in first," he said, making sure his tone left no room for argument.

Sherlock pursed his lips, about to speak, but then apparently gave in to John's demand since he gestured for John to open the door with a tilt of his head.

Even knowing they were without the element of surprise, John pulled the door open only the slightest bit and carefully sighted the entire floor. Other than similar construction detritus, it was as empty as the previous one, save for Moriarty sitting in on a high backed wooden chair in the centre of the room. Jeremy Moriarty. The identical twin of the man who had strapped him into a bomb vest. The man who, in another world, had killed nearly everyone John cared about and the man who had tried to kill, well, to be precise, succeeded in killing John himself.

"Do come in, Doctor Watson," Moriarty called to him. "I feel I should assure you that your weapon is unneeded at the moment and that you could put it away, but as I doubt you will take my word for it I shan't bother."

"Yeah, not going to trust you on that, am I?" John replied as he stepped into the room, motioning Sherlock to follow with his free hand. "Not in this lifetime, anyway." Not in any lifetime, actually.

Never one to simply enter a room when he could make a true theatrical entrance, Sherlock strode past John with a flourish, his coat billowing behind him in that way that made him look larger than life. John followed at a more sedate pace and without the touches of showmanship, knowing he'd look like a right fool if he ever attempted anything like that.

"Jeremy Muirchertach, I presume." Sherlock stopped a few feet in front of the occupied chair and stared down at its occupant, using a combination of his height and general presence to loom over him. It was Sherlock's typical method for attempting to intimidate someone, although John didn't think it was working this time; if anything, Moriarty looked amused.

"I prefer Moriarty, actually," he replied with the slightest of sneers. "For he was I and I was he. But now I am just me, isn't that right? Or wrong, as the case may be. So very, very wrong. And that, mes amis, is the problem."

Careful to keep his gun trained on Moriarty, John settled his stance, ready to fire or flee, depending how events played out. "We are not your friends. You or your brother's." John chose not to comment on the riddle. Verbal sparring was more Sherlock's bailiwick than his.

"But you are!" Moriarty spread his hands out in front of himself as he spoke. "Because here you are, ready, able and willing to help me in my quest."

"I proposed this rendezvous under the pretence of meeting you, not to help you. In fact, it's entirely possible that we are here to kill you." Sherlock's tone was light, his declaration made in almost an off-hand manner.

Moriarty laughed at the threat. "Now, now, the good doctor here might be a killer when circumstances call for it, but he is no murderer."

"It wouldn't be murder if he was stopping you from destroying the world."

"You think I want to destroy the world?" Moriarty began to laugh, a high pitched, cackling laugh that John found creepy and disturbing and not the slightest bit on this side of sanity. "Oh, no, I don't want to destroy the world, I want to leave it!"

And then John knew.

Moriarty wanted the artefact in order to use it. John couldn't be sure if Moriarty understood exactly how the artefact worked (to be honest John himself was a little hazy on the details in that regard) but somehow Moriarty knew, or at least suspected, that it acted as a bridge between worlds. That... put a whole other spin on finding it to keep it out of Moriarty's hands, because if his whole goal in locating it was to use it, then what was the harm? Well, other than the fact they'd be siccing Moriarty on some poor, unsuspecting world. There was that aspect to it. No world deserved that.

"You wish to leave?" Sherlock asked, either deliberately misunderstanding Moriarty's declaration. "The door is right there, please be my guest."

"Sherlock, Sherlock, Sherlock. Not leave this building, not that doing so is likely to be possible considering it is almost definitely under surveillance by your meddling brother due to your presence here. Is the plan that he force me into one of his ominous limousines when I leave? It's not as if he requires an arrest warrant or probable cause or anything boring like that to pluck me off the street, does he?" Moriarty didn't seem upset by the idea of Mycroft's people grabbing him, and he smiled when Sherlock half-shrugged at the comment, admitting to the truth behind the statement. "I wish to leave this world. Surely your research into the Charlottenburg artefact delved into its unusual properties?"

Sherlock waved away the question. "Fanciful supposition with no basis in fact."

"You have a horridly small mind when it comes to the mysterious. Such a pity." Moriarty turned away from Sherlock, as if he were dismissing him, and focused his attention on John instead. "And what of you, Johnny boy?"

John licked his lips as he collected his thoughts and debated the best way to voice them. "I think there are a lot of things in the world that aren't completely understood or easily explained," he offered after a moment. "Ninety-nine point nine nine nine percent of the time a mirror's just a mirror, but who can say about that other zero point whatever? It's probably just a mirror. Most likely it's just a mirror. But is it definitely just a mirror? I'm not sure you can answer that with complete and utter certainty."

Moriarty clapped his hands together, smiling so widely he was practically beaming at John. "Oh, very good! Very good!"

Sherlock's brow crinkled as John spoke, although if it were from confusion or annoyance over what John was saying, or something else entirely, John wasn't certain. Usually John let Sherlock take the lead when they were confronting suspects so it was possible Sherlock was merely responding to that, but John doubted it. There was something more to the way Sherlock was looking at him. Something uncomfortable.

"I knew you were more than just Sherlock's sidekick and faithful attack dog." His wanton approval felt grating and was beginning to unnerve John.

"Whether or not John may be correct is not at issue here." Sherlock turned to address both John and Moriarty as he spoke. "Do you really think I would allow you to attempt to abscond from your crimes?"

Moriarty tipped his head, as if acknowledging and agreeing with what Sherlock suggested. "But what if your choice was between allowing me to leave or having even more crimes to charge me with? Especially when all I want to do is join my brother, you couldn't fault me for wanting that, could you?"

"You wish to join your brother?" Sherlock asked. "If your plan is to blow your brains out, be my guest, although if you'd wait until I left the room, I'd appreciate it. I really have no desire to deal with a mess like that again anytime soon."

The look Moriarty gave Sherlock was scathing and for a moment they stared at one another before Moriarty began to slowly shake his head. "Sherlock, Sherlock, Sherlock," he said, putting extra emphasis on the first syllable and dragging the name out to be far longer than it should be. "You put far too much stock in your own limited view of the world sometimes. How many mysteries have you been unable to solve because you lacked the ability to even see that there was a question there to be asked?"

"But you are asking them," Sherlock scoffed.

"I am answering them!"

"So enlighten me, what are these questions that I am unable to ask?"

"You put so much faith in your science, in the world you can observe; you fail to see that there is so much more out there! Things that, by their very nature, defy explanation," Moriarty thundered as he jumped to his feet. "You and your pathetic short-sightedness! You will never have the vision necessary to best me!"

"I bested your brother." Sherlock took a step closer to Moriarty, showing all the signs of beginning one of his 'look how clever I am' boastful rambles, but John reached out with his right hand and pulled him back.

"Let's not antagonise the criminal mastermind, all right? You said you wanted to meet him to hear him out, so let's hear him out." John turned his attention back to Moriarty. "Well, go on then, give it to us. Tell us your plan and why you wanted to meet us."

"Are you trying to imply you haven't worked it out?" Moriarty calmed himself, relaxing his stance and shoving his hands in his pockets.

Since Moriarty didn't seem like he was going to let the subject drop, John answered, "You think you can use the artefact to cross into some other world where James is still alive."

"I have spent countless hours and went to considerable expense to track down every credible method for being able to contact my brother or be with him again. The Charlottenburg artefact is my last hope."

"You don't even know what you're hoping for! You've no idea what's needed to make it work or what you'll have to do to use it!"

"I've pored over every article, studied every report, interviewed every single person who has ever had any experience with the artefact whatsoever. What makes you think I've not the necessary knowledge to use it once I have it in my possession?" Moriarty focused on John then, staring at him in the way usually only Sherlock did, as if he were peeling him apart and seeing right into him. "It is interesting that you speak as though activating it is possible, isn't it? Although, it's not because you choose to believe what you've read is the truth or that you're more open minded than your self-aggrandising companion. You. You." To John's horror, he watched Moriarty's eyes widen as he somehow realised the truth. "Tell me! Tell me this minute or face the consequences!" With a flourish he pulled his hands out of his pockets, revealing a gun in one and a trigger mechanism of some sort in the other.

"Explosives?"Sherlock sniffed, looking decidedly unimpressed. "It's like the pool all over again."

"You never wondered about all those 'gas mains' that exploded during our little game back when? It wasn't James who set those up, although he did insist on their scope. I always thought they lacked flourish, didn't you? After all, why destroy a storey when you can destroy a building? Why a single building instead of an entire row?"

"What have you done?" John asked, practically at the same time that Sherlock said,

"Of course! I should have seen this. No wonder why you were more than willing to meet somewhere other than those five properties you own. You've wired them all with explosives, haven't you?"

Moriarty raised an eyebrow. "You think in the same small scope as my brother always did. Yes, I own five properties in Shepherds Bush, but do you really believe those are the only locations I've acquired? Oh, no. I've over one hundred properties in London alone, some of which are hidden behind so many shell companies I believe it is safe to say any attempts to trace them to me will be futile."

"So that's how you plan on doing this then? Demand I track down the Charlottenburg artefact or you will begin to rain destruction down upon London? Throw your little temper tantrum by blowing things up when we don't follow your demands fast enough?" John fought to repress a shudder at Sherlock's questions because that was exactly how things had happened in his world.

"You have no reason not to help me!" Moriarty's voice became shriller and shriller, his cheeks flushing with emotion. "It isn't that I want the artefact, I need it! I must have it! You should want to locate it for me! If you do I will leave this world to be with James and you shall never have deal with a Moriarty ever again!"

"How can you be so certain of the artefact's abilities? I don't understand." Sherlock sounded so utterly and completely perplexed, John almost felt bad for him.

"You don't need to understand!" Moriarty gestured wildly, the gun flailing about for a moment before he steadied it, pointing it again at Sherlock. "You just need to answer me this. Did. You. Find. The. Artefact."

"I did, but what I learned will not be of any help to you," Sherlock said calmly. "I traced it to a sale in 2012, but when it was being sent overseas to the buyer the cargo plane it was on experienced distress. The pilots were able to successfully take it down for an emergency landing, but they lost all the mail they were transporting from their right cargo bay, including the package containing the Charlottenburg artefact, somewhere over the South China Sea."

"No!" Moriarty screamed, his eyes going wide. It was as if John could see the moment when Moriarty realised his chance for activating the artefact was lost and he'd never be with James again, and in between one second and the next it was like he'd flipped a switch and lost his veneer of composure and sanity and descended into a place of irrationality and hatred. Then Moriarty moved, tensing his right hand around the gun as he pulled back the trigger, while at the same time flicking open his left to activate the remote he held within it.

John reacted instinctively. His gun had already been trained on Moriarty and he aimed and fired before Moriarty could act, the retort echoing through the room. The bullet went straight through Moriarty's heart, just as he'd meant it to, and there was just enough time for Moriarty to blink and gasp before falling backwards, John diving after him to grab the detonator before any kind of movement could set it off.

Ending up on his knees on the dirty floor, John managed to snag it seconds before it hit the floor. "It's okay, he didn't activate it and it doesn't look like there was a dead man's switch." Heart racing, he took a deep breath. "It looks real though. Mycroft will have to bring some experts in. He has experts, right? What am I saying, of course he does. How many bombs do you think this controls?" His hands weren't shaking but he could feel the post-adrenalin let down begin as it occurred to him just how badly the night almost ended. "Shite, you better call Lestrade. Moriarty's dead and I killed him. Someone will have to take care of the body, open an investigation and all that." John reached out and carefully set the detonator on the floor next to where Moriarty had fallen.

Sherlock bent down, his hand resting between John's shoulder blades for just a moment. "It was self defence. He would not only have shot me, but this building, as well as many others, were rigged to explode and he was about to detonate them. If there were to be an investigation into the shooting, you would be found innocent." John could hear typing though, and experience told him that Sherlock, even as he spoke, was sending a text to Mycroft, most likely, with all the pertinent details. "Although, as his death will no doubt fall under the prevue of national security, it will never result in a trial."

"Mycroft."

It was a statement, not a question, since of course Mycroft would ensure the fact that buildings all over London had been rigged with explosives would never reach any official channels, but Sherlock answered it anyway. "Mycroft."

John nodded. "I guess sometimes he can be useful."

"It is rare, but it does happen."

Allowing himself one last moment to decompress, John took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and then released it slowly before pocketing his gun and pushing himself to his feet. "All right, let's go home," he said wearily, fully expecting to be told it wouldn't be that easy and there was to be questioning and bomb disposal and whatnot to be dealt with before they could hope to leave.

Surprisingly, it was that easy. Sherlock led the way without saying a word and as they exited the car park one of Mycroft's cars pulled up to the kerb, three impeccably attired men in suits emerged from it, the third holding the door open and looking pointedly at Sherlock and John until Sherlock huffed, strode over, and slipped inside. Just as John was sliding in himself, a van and other car came up behind them and began disgorging official-looking types carrying all sorts of equipment.

They were let off at Baker Street, John still marvelling how easy things had wound up turning out. Instead of following Sherlock into the living room, he stopped off to wash up and put his gun away first. The latter was accomplished easily and the former probably unnecessary. Considering how things had turned out he didn't have to worry about removing all traces of gunpowder residue from his hands or his clothing, but the scent lingered, and since his time in the army he'd grown unaccustomed to it. He gave the jacket cuff a light scrubbing as well while he was at it, brushed off the construction dust from his knees, and pondered his reflection in the mirror. Moriarty was dead. Both Moriartys, actually. No one else John loved would die in the name of those maniacs.

Here, anyway.

At some point he was going to have to deal with everything that had happened. Mary was dead, yet probably alive somewhere out there. All the horrible things, all the death and destruction he'd witnessed in his world, had happened. But not here. There was going to be at least one night, if not several, when he was going to allow himself to get really drunk and mourn the life he'd lost, but now was not that time. They'd won. The nightmare was over.

Right now, they should celebrate. John pushed open the door to the kitchen and grabbed himself one of the chocolates Mycroft had sent over, noting to himself that there were only two left. Now that they'd killed Moriarty and stopped him from blowing up a good portion of London would Mycroft send over another basket? Or, while he was happy to send well wishes via gift basket, did he draw the line at offering thanks for quick reflexes and amazing shooting skills?

Unwrapping the chocolate, he headed into the living room, tossing his coat on his chair. "We should order Chinese, I would kill for a," he began, before stopping in his tracks, frozen by what he saw.

Sherlock was sitting on the sofa with the two shards of the artefact that had travelled with John to this world spread out on the coffee table. The shards lay on a piece of paper where Sherlock had sketched out what must be his approximation of how the artefact had looked before breaking, like parts of a puzzle laid out waiting to be filled with the missing pieces. Looking up from the tableau in front of him, Sherlock, face completely unreadable, said, "You are not the John Watson I know, are you?"

"I," John said, placing his hand on his chest, "am John Watson."

"John Watson, yes, a John Watson, but not my John Watson."

"I am who I am, who I have always been," he replied carefully.

"Stop being obtuse!" Sherlock slammed his fist down on the table, causing the shards to jump and clatter.

"Sherlock." John had to swallow and steady his voice, to appear calm even as he felt like everything was crashing down around him. "I am John Watson. I was an army doctor before I got shot and invalided out of the military. I began a blog to write about my life, but nothing ever happened to me until I met a daft bugger called Sherlock Holmes. A daft bugger who changed my life and... became my best friend. That is who I am, that's who I've always been."

"But-" Sherlock broke off, obviously frustrated and unable to formulate the proper questions to find the answers to what he wanted to know. John had been aware that since leaving the hospital that first morning Sherlock had sometimes stared at him because John hadn't answered or acted the way he was supposed to, the way the John Watson of this world would have, and he suspected that the talk with Moriarty had provided just enough insight for Sherlock to interpret the data he had already collected in a different enough light to bring him close to the truth of what had happened. The result being that Sherlock's world view had been shaken, altered, enough that he had come to the proper conclusion, but it was so far from the realm of what he believed possible that he didn't know what to do with what he'd figured out.

John pulled his chair across from the sofa and said, "Reason it out, Sherlock, you can do it."

"The accident. Your injuries; they were inconsistent with regards to the velocity of the vehicles that struck you. The ambulance arrived quickly and you were whisked off whilst I dealt with the police, but when I spoke to your doctors they assured me that despite the drastic lifesaving measures I witnessed, you were not critically injured. The damage that should have resulted from your head trauma was unaccounted for other than a minor concussion, and it was a similar situation in regards to your knee, clavicle, sternum, et cetera. You had, however, obtained lacerations to your hand that did not match the accident and the shards embedded within were completely inexplicable considering the pavement consistency where you fell.

"And even discounting the incongruous injuries and the shards, there were differences I noted about you and your behaviour. Your right thumb, for example. When lost in thought you brush it against your ring finger. Such movement is a common tell of a married man, the instinctive touch of one's wedding band, but you are not and have never been married. Originally I discounted your increased PSTD incidents and night terrors as being a result of your brush with death, but your own reactions to them belied such an idea - you found them frustrating and annoying, but not unexpected. You have also shown vast improvements in your computer skills, at typing, research and, most interestingly, hiding your tracks online.

"Your eye for detail has improved notably of late, as has your ability to reason. I had attributed that to my influence finally making an impact, but that is not the case, is it?" Sherlock finally raised his head, his gaze moving from the shards to John.

"It is, partially. To some extent it was you. Just not you you." John scrubbed his hand over his face. "But I shouldn't be muddying the waters here. You were gathering your facts to make a conclusion."

"Your certainty at Moriarty's involvement was resolute; you saw it not as a possibility, but as a fact." Elbows on his knees, Sherlock leant forward. "This was because you knew he, or as the case may have been, his brother, was alive. Not reasoned. Not supposed. Not presumed. Not from the manner in which the data presented itself. You knew because you were already certain of this fact. Why would John Watson be certain of this when I myself was not?

"You are not my John Watson," he stated simply, spreading his hands wide, as if daring John to refute his conclusion.

Instead of attempting to argue with Sherlock, John merely asked, "And how could that be?"

"The Charlottenburg artefact is real. Or was real. You had it in your possession when something traumatic happened and were able to use it, somehow, to come to this world from your own. Obviously it is not a window to one's spirit self or whatever those more fanciful claims purported it to be, but instead something more akin to how Moriarty imagined it to be. It was a... what? Bridge? Transporter? The actual term is immaterial, I suppose. The result is, it brought you here and these shards," he picked up the larger of the two and turned it about in his hand, "are all that remain of it."

"How did you deduce that something traumatic happened?" Overall Sherlock's deductions and assumptions had gone the way John assumed they would, but he hadn't expected Sherlock to reason that out.

"You were unsurprised at being injured. You were dismayed at being in hospital, yes, but not in regards to the fact you had been hurt. Instead it was fear, or perhaps concern, regarding accessibility and the public nature of your location. I had originally assumed your reaction had its basis in the case we had been in the middle of, but I was mistaken, wasn't I? You were completely unaware of Mycroft's blackmailing case, rather you did not wish to be in an open establishment like a hospital due to the situation that caused you to be hurt where you came from." Sherlock tilted his head, his eyes boring into John.

"You are John Watson. Former army doctor, as you said previously, and former flatmate of Sherlock Holmes. I assume former because you are currently married and working full time at a surgery, although you still help with cases now and again. You, and the rest of your world, thought Moriarty was dead until he presented evidence to the contrary in what was most likely a violent and extreme manner."

"I'd say that was amazing, but you're probably sick of hearing that from me." It was a sincere statement, said without a touch of jest or lightheartedness, but Sherlock appeared to be slightly sickened or repulsed and John's comment didn't help.

"So, the question is, what happened to the John Watson that you replaced?"

Oh. That would be why. John had to look away then. He couldn't bear witnessing Sherlock's attempts to navigate the emotional rollercoaster of what was coming. "I think you know what happened to him. Or can work it out, at least. What was his condition when you last saw him?"

"Gravely injured, but-"

"No," John interrupted, his voice firm, but not unkind. "What was his condition?"

"He was dead," Sherlock said simply.

"Yeah." John sighed and scrubbed his hand over his face. "And before you ask, I don't know how the artefact works, in fact I didn't even know it would work. All I knew was that in my world Moriarty was obsessed with it and determined to get his hands on it. We - my Sherlock and I - had separated to make ourselves less of a target. I'd had the artefact for maybe fifteen minutes, I was bringing it to you so you could examine it and maybe find out why he wanted it so badly, when Moriarty found me."

"I assume your confrontation was violent?"

"Yeah, he ran me down with his car and then shot me. A lot." John managed to turn his shudder into a half shrug. "I don't know what happened. I was carrying the artefact and it broke when I fell. Like I said, I don't pretend to understand how it happened, how it worked, but I think it somehow transported me here because it registered somehow that my alternate in this world had just died and left behind a body I could inhabit. I think. I don't know."

"So my John Watson is dead. Gone." Sherlock deflated just a bit as he said that, and a look of vulnerability flashed across his face.

"Most likely, yeah. I'm sorry."

Sherlock nodded, acknowledging John's apology even if he didn't comment on it. "You have made an almost acceptable replacement," he offered instead.

"Thanks for that, I guess."

"Do you wish to stay? Or do you want to try to find a way home?"

John honestly didn't know how to answer that. "I'm not even a hundred percent sure how I got here, let alone how I would get back. There's not a lot to return to, either. Moriarty, Jeremy I guess, not James, had. He." John cleared his throat. "There were bombs and killings. Mrs Hudson. Lestrade. M- Let's just say a lot of people died, so there's not much left for me there, even if I could figure out how to return. And with the artefact at the bottom of the South China Sea somewhere, well." He sighed and spread his hands out in front of him.

"Ah, yes, about that." Sherlock shifted in his seat and licked his lips in the way he always did when he was about to admit an uncomfortable revelation in front of a client.

"The artefact was on that cargo plane, wasn't it Sherlock?"

"Yes, it was."

"And was it one of the packages that were dumped into the ocean when the plane was in trouble?"

"It was listed amongst the missing cargo, yes," Sherlock slowly explained, but his tone was careful. Cagey.

"Sherlock." John drew the name out into two very long syllables, with a touch of threat behind them.

Jumping to his feet, Sherlock began to pace. "I told Moriarty the truth regarding the Charlottenburg artefact."

"The entire truth?"

"Everything I am certain of, yes."

Pursing his lips, John tilted his head and glared at Sherlock. "That's an oddly specific choice of wording," he commented.

"Yes, well, it's important to be specific. Generalisations can-" Sherlock broke off at the sound of a car pulling up to an abrupt stop at the kerb.

"That'll be Lestrade," John commented. "It sounds like he's in a hurry."

"...It does indeed," Sherlock agreed, readily, latching on to the topic change like a drowning man grabbed onto a rope.

"He must need our help on a case."

Then there was thundering from the stairs and Lestrade burst through the door, not even bothering to knock. "Good, you're both here. Double homicide, staged to look like a murder-suicide."

"Staged?" Sherlock perked up at that, obviously interested.

"Bullets didn't match the casings or the guns."

"You're sure?" John asked, actually a bit surprised. If you were going to go through the effort of setting it up to look like the two people had killed one another, why wouldn't you police your brass and leave ones that matched the planted guns behind?

"The guns were Glock 17s, the casings .40 S&Ws and, going by appearance anyway, they were shot with .22s"

"But the Glock 17 fires 9mms, why would," John began, only to be interrupted by Sherlock,

"Obviously, it wasn't an attempt to hide the crime but to send a message."

John stood and turned to Sherlock. "What kind of message does staging an obviously fake murder-suicide make?"

Sherlock grinned. "I don't know, but it is intriguing."

"Will you come?" Lestrade asked.

Sherlock looked at John who turned to Lestrade and said, "Of course we'll come. Let us just grab our coats."

Looking relieved, Lestrade offered a quick, "Thank you," before turning to leave. "I'll wait outside."

"Text us the address!" Sherlock shouted after him. "You know I don't travel by police car."

"Sherlock, about what we were discussing earlier," John said, snagging his coat when Sherlock tossed it at him. "The artefact?"

"There'll be time for that later, John. Right now the game..." he began, turning to John at the doorway and waiting for his response.

"Is on," John finished, and he found himself unable to hide his smile. "Yeah, it is."

"And you wouldn't have it any other way," Sherlock said as he closed the door after them.

"No, no I wouldn't."